There is a history of ritual tongue piercing in both Aztec and Mayan cultures, but piercing the tongue to insert permanent ornamentation is a much newer phenomenon. The “modern” tongue piercing—a straight barbell passing through the center of the tongue—did not surface until the 1980’s.
Tongue piercings are usually done along the center of the tongue placed approximately where the lingual frenulum (or “tongue webbing”) attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. We don’t advise placing the piercing too close to the tip of the tongue, as this is more likely to cause trouble with speech and damage to the teeth. However, if the tongue is long enough and the webbing underneath isn't too tight, multiple tongue piercings can be done in a straight row. Side-by-side piercings can be done as well, although they can be—pardon the pun—a mouthful. While the piercing itself is not particularly difficult or painful, you should expect a good deal of swelling afterward; you may also find you have a slight lisp and difficulty speaking for the first two to four days, but this is temporary and will improve as the swelling decreases.
Initial jewelry is a straight 14 gauge barbell thick and long enough to account for swelling (7/8”). Because of this swelling, two different lengths of jewelry are needed: one initially and one to be worn after healing (5/8”)
Much has been made of the risk of damage to the gums and teeth from oral piercings, and tongue piercings in particular. While these risks are present and should be considered, the best way to minimize these risks is to downsize your piercing after healing—usually at about 2-3 weeks. Your teeth will thank you! The tongue piercing is the only piercing I recommend changing the jewelry this soon after the piercing is done.
Tongue Piercing FAQ
Does it hurt?
For most people, tongue piercing doesn’t hurt much at all. Much like lip or labret piercings, the tongue piercing is one of the easiest piercings to sit through—but it can be one of the more uncomfortable piercings during healing. Swelling is usually fairly substantial, and it will probably make speaking and eating difficult for a few days, but sitting through the procedure is usually not too bad.
What happens if I pull my tongue back during the piercing?
By the time you feel any discomfort, the piercing is already done. The piercer will have a firm grip on your tongue—either with his or her fingers or with a pair of forceps—so with an experienced piercer there is actually very little you can do to mess the procedure up.
What can I eat while it’s healing?
Because of swelling, eating may be uncomfortable for the first couple of days. During this time, try not to eat anything that further irritates the area, such as solid, tough, crunchy, or hot (spicy or in temperature) foods. It is best to stick with foods that are softer and do not involve much chewing. Chilled smoothies are always a good idea. Chew food slowly and take small bites.
Will I talk funny?
You will have some readjusting to do in the first week or so while your tongue is swollen. If you simply speak more slowly and carefully, you should be fine. (It’s sort of like speaking with a wad of gum in your mouth you’re trying to hide.) The day after getting pierced is typically the worst; by day three, at least you can fake it.
Why shouldn’t I use Listerine to clean my mouth?
You know that burning, tingling sensation you get when you use Listerine? Despite how it is marketed, that’s NOT a good thing when it comes to healing. Listerine is formulated for once a day use; it’s far too harsh to use repeatedly during the day, as it can upset the natural flora in your mouth. (This applies to any mouthwash with high alcohol content.) Over use of Listerine or a similar mouthwash can sometimes lead to oral yeast infections (called thrush in children), especially in people with a compromised immune system. If you see a thick, white film developing on your tongue and the back of your throat, quit the Listerine and switch to sea-salt gargles instead.
Do I have to buy a whole new barbell after healing?
Yes. You will need to switch to a shorter post after healing. Once all the swelling is gone (about 2-3 weeks), you should change your jewelry to something that fits more snugly to your tongue. A smaller barbell usually makes it easier to talk, easier to hide, and makes it less likely that you will damage your gums or teeth.
Can I damage my teeth or gums?
Yes, you can. Much like lip or labret piercings, tongue piercings also have the potential to cause damage to your teeth. The best way to minimize this risk is to make sure your jewelry fits properly; this mean putting in a shorter barbell after the first month. Since most damage comes from wearing jewelry that is too long—such as extra-long barbells rubbing against gums, biting the barbell, playing with the jewelry, etc.—it is vital that jewelry be downsized after healing.
How easily will I be able to hide it?
During the healing period, the initial jewelry needs to remain in the piercing. It’s in your best interest not to laugh or open your mouth too wide in front of the person you are hiding it from—and be sure to cover your mouth when you yawn. Downsizing your jewelry when healed can help minimize its visibility as well.
Can I lose my sense of taste?
Grade school science class taught us that our tongue is covered with hundreds of taste buds, not just one or two. What’s more, these taste buds are replaced every couple of days—this is why you can burn your tongue with some super-heated café latte on Tuesday and taste buffalo wings and beer by Friday. Plus, most of your tasting is done with the edges of your tongue anyway. So no, a tongue piercing will not cause you to lose your sense of taste.
Can I change the jewelry myself?
Absolutely. Since each of the balls unscrews from the barbell, you simply need to unscrew one end, pull the entire piece of jewelry out, and then slide the new one in. The tongue piercing is also extremely easy to stretch; usually, this is done by just inserting the next size every couple of months. However, if you do encounter any resistance when attempting to stretch your tongue piercing, you may want to try drinking something hot first, just make sure not to leave the piercing empty as it can tighten up after just ten or twenty minutes. If this happens, try drinking something hot to loosen it up, and see if you can ease your jewelry back into the piercing.
Could my tongue be too short to pierce?
While this is rare, there are some who are not able to stick their tongue far enough out of their mouths for it to be pierced. Short tongues are more often caused by tight webbing on the underside of your tongue as opposed to the tongue length itself. For individuals whose tongues are shorter, we usually just pierce them closer—but not too close—to the tip.
What about kissing and oral sex?
Like any oral piercing, you should wait until the piercing has healed before exchanging bodily fluids. It’s important to remember you have an open wound in your mouth, so you’re exchanging not only saliva but blood, lymph, bacteria, and whatever else. Even if you are already sharing fluids with your partner, an open wound opens up the possibility to pick up bacteria from them, as their body’s normal bacteria is still foreign to your body. If you do decide to kiss your partner anyway, rinse your mouth—and have your partner rinses his or her mouth—with an antiseptic mouthwash before and after. At the very least, you’ll be kissing clean, fresh breath—but, more importantly, you could be avoiding an unhappy infection. If you do choose to participate in oral sex, make sure it is fluid-safe by using condoms, dental dams, non-porous plastic wrap, etc., even if you do not usually use protection with your partner.
We know you want to try out your new piercing, but trust us; good things come to those who wait.