All Your Burning Tongue Piercing Questions, Answered

Drew Barrymmore tongue piercing

 Getty Images/Design by Cristina Cianci

Getting your tongue pierced is a great way to immediately add something unique to your look. Even if everyone you know had a tongue piercing, there are so many possibilities of placement, jewelry choice, and style that yours would still be completely personal to you. They’re a sneaky piercing as well, as they stay hidden when your mouth is closed but demand attention when it’s open.

Whether you’re considering the common single-stud tongue piercing (it’s actually a bar, not a stud!) or want something completely out-there (snake eyes, anyone?), a tongue piercing is a great way to express yourself.

"Tongue piercings are a great way to add some decoration to your mouth, as they basically sit like a pearl inside a clam, and your options for jewelry are limitless," says Sydney, Australia-based piercer Samantha Josephine. "Once your piercing has healed and you become used to it, it is a no-fuss piercing that you can enjoy for years."

Tongue Piercings

Placement: Tongue

Pricing: Anywhere from $35 to $100, according to Josephine and Jacquelyn Dohoney of Big Deluxe Tattoo.

Pain level: 4-6/10

Healing time: A tongue piercing heals fairly quickly, taking anywhere from four to eight weeks.

Aftercare: To care for a tongue piercing, wash it two to three times daily with a sea salt rinse and avoid any activity that will cause additional swelling or irritation until it’s fully healed—around four to eight weeks.

What Is a Tongue Piercing?

A tongue piercing is any body modification that involves piercing a piece of jewelry through the tongue. There’s not one type of tongue piercing, though. The most common is the midline piercing, a vertical piercing involving a needle going straight through at one point from top to bottom in the center of the tongue. There’s also the horizontal tongue piercing, which runs the needle through the tongue from side to side instead of top to bottom.

More creative tongue piercings, like the snake eyes piercing—a horizontal tongue piercing toward the top of the tongue that looks like a snake head—exist as well. The frenulum piercing is a horizontal piercing of the web of skin beneath the tongue. A venom piercing is a vertical piercing on each side of the tongue. A surface piercing—also the least common type of tongue piercing—is a horizontal piercing with a curved barbell. Basically, any possible arrangement of a vertical or horizontal piercing is possible on the tongue.

The way a tongue is pierced involves clamping the appendage with forceps to hold the tissue. Then, a needle—typically a 14 gauge, says Dohoney—is pushed through the tongue to create the actual piercing. The jewelry is pushed through behind the needle to complete the piercing process.

“Sometimes we will use a larger needle if the client requests a larger gauge piece of jewelry, but 14g is standard,” says Dohoney.

Pain and Healing Time

While the tongue may seem like a sensitive spot to pierce, thanks to its responsiveness to tastes and touch, it’s actually a relatively low-pain placement choice. Because the needle is just going through connective tissue rather than cartilage or skin, there’s less of a "pain" feeling, and it’s considered fairly tolerable. In fact, Josephine says that “the clamps tend to be more uncomfortable than the piercing itself."

“It’s more like a weird pressure; it hurts more to bite your tongue,” agrees Dohoney. “A double vertical is a little more painful because it goes directly through the tongue muscle. A horizontal is the most painful because it’s done in an area where the majority of the nerves are.”

However, no piercing is without pain. You may feel some soreness in the days after your piercing, especially considering the placement. You use your tongue on a daily basis, whether it be for eating or talking, so you’ll certainly feel a bit of pain as your tongue heals while you use it. Fortunately, tongue piercings tend to heal quickly, taking anywhere from four to eight weeks, according to Dr. Erum Ilyas, President and founder of Montgomery Dermatology. Bear in mind, though, that horizontal piercings will take longer than vertical ones.

"Most people heal in four [weeks]," says Dohoney. "A horizontal tongue piercing forces the jewelry through the tip of both muscles. With the constant movement of the two muscles that have been forcefully stuck together, it makes it incredibly difficult to heal."

Cost of a Tongue Piercing

"The cost for a tongue piercing definitely varies from place to place and person to person," says Josephine. "It will also depend on how complicated the procedure is, which tools are used, what jewelry is used, and can also depend on the skill level of the piercer."

Like any piercing, the price of a tongue piercing will vary depending on your specific circumstances—that includes your location, the shop/piercer you choose, the exact piercing, and more. Although typically, a tongue piercing runs anywhere from $35 to $100. Also, don’t forget that piercings come with two charges: the actual piercing and the jewelry. Be prepared to pay a good price for quality jewelry—something you definitely shouldn’t skimp on.

Aftercare

Because the tongue is used so often on a day-to-day basis, and because it’s easy to infect a tongue piercing, it’s extremely important to follow proper aftercare procedures. It’s a great idea to talk to your piercer about what they recommend, even if you’ve done your research—they’re always going to be the experts on the matter (even more-so than Google).

“It is important that you remember that this is an open wound in your mouth during healing time,” says Josephine.

At the minimum, you should wash your mouth out two to three times a day with a sea salt rinse or non-alcohol mouthwash. However, there’s a long list of dos and don'ts with tongue piercing aftercare. For one, don’t smoke or use a straw during the healing process, because the motion will drastically increase swelling—as will the irritation from salty, spicy, hot, or sour foods. Josephine also recommends avoiding dairy, as it leaves a thick film on the tongue that may encourage bacterial growth. Super hot foods should be left alone as well

"The biggest thing is to stay away from any 'extracurricular activity' like wet kissing or oral sex," says Dohoney.

It’s also totally common to see slight swelling about two days into the healing process. This may last until the tenth day or so, but it will eventually go down. Keep track of when the swelling is over, though, as you have to change out the jewelry when it does.

"Once the swelling has gone down, the barbell will need to be changed to a regular-sized bar so as not to cause additional trauma to the healing wound by the constant tugging and snagging that a longer bar will cause," says Josephine.

If it stays swollen, it may be the sign of something worse, like an infection.

Side Effects

“Pain, tenderness and drainage can be seen when the area is not properly cared for,” says Dr. Ilyas. “In terms of complications, there are both short and long term consequences.”

  • Swelling: Swelling is when the area around your tongue piercing grows in size and doesn’t go back down. This is a super common side effect of a tongue piercing due to the amount of daily activity a tongue goes through, no matter if it’s freshly pierced or not. If you’re not careful to take all recommended aftercare precautions, swelling is quite easy to cause.
  • Infection: Infections are when bacteria gets into the piercing site and grows—it’s a symptom of a lack of proper aftercare. Infection symptoms normal for tongue piercings include swelling, tenderness, bleeding, and pain. It’s normal to see slight swelling over the first week and notice some redness in the first day or two, but anything that seems abnormal on a tongue piercing is probably the sign of something worse. “If it’s not cared for, you can get an infection, including yeast infections, also known as thrush,” notes Dohoney.
  • Dental erosion: Dental erosion is when the tooth is slowly worn away at by the tongue piercing. You can easily damage your teeth thanks to constantly having a piece of metal rub against the inside of them.

How to Change Out a Tongue Piercing

“Changing tongue piercings to a shorter barbell is highly recommended once it heals,” says Dohoney. “If you don’t, you will have issues with chipping your teeth, biting the jewelry, gum recession behind the teeth, and even swallowing the jewelry.”

Changing out a tongue piercing is completely possible, and in most cases, can be done by yourself at home. To do so, stick out your tongue, grab the two beads on either side of the barbell and twist until one comes off. Then, pull the bar out and place your new piece of jewelry through the hole. Twist the new jewelry’s beads until tight, and you’re all set.

However, it’s a good idea to see your piercer for the first jewelry change, says Josephine, to be sure you’re causing as little trauma to the still-healing wound as possible and to avoid any potential infection thanks to incompetence or accident.

“The mouth is filled with virulent bacteria, so it is important to be cautious,” agrees Dr. Ilyas.

What Type of Jewelry Is Used for a Tongue Piercing?

“The most common jewelry used is a ball-shaped piercing, with cone and cylindrical being far less common,” says Dr. Ilyas.

Barbell: A barbell is, at the basic level, a metal bar with a small bead affixed on both ends; typically one is removable and one isn’t. A barbell is inserted in a tongue piercing by pushing it through behind the needle. For tongue piercings, barbells can either be straight or curved, depending on size and placement.

"A straight or curved barbell will be used for this piercing depending on the type of piercing you are getting," says Josephine. "Any vertical piercing will require a straight barbell and so will the snake eyes; however, a surface piercing will use a curved barbell/banana bar."

What Jewelry Material Is Used for a Tongue Piercing?

"We use surgical grade ... stainless steel barbells or ... implant grade titanium barbells—whichever clients prefers," says Dohoney.

  • Surgical steel: The most common type of metal used to make jewelry for piercings is stainless steel, specifically surgical grade. There’s very little problems with using stainless steel and it comes in so many variations, so it’s able to be used for most people. However, those with a nickel allergy should avoid this metal, as it will irritate their skin.
  • Titanium: Titanium doesn’t contain nickel, so it won’t cause any irritation to the piercing site or other allergic reaction. Titanium also comes in various colors and styles, is lightweight, and won’t corrode.

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