Oral Piercing - Healing Advice

Body piercing is a popular form of self-expression. Oral piercings or tongue splitting may look cool, but they can be dangerous to your health. That’s because your mouth contains millions of bacteria, and infection and swelling often occur with mouth piercings. For instance, your mouth and tongue could swell so much that you close off your airway or you could possibly choke if part of the jewelry breaks off in your mouth. In some cases, you could crack a tooth if you bite down too hard on the piercing, and repeated clicking of the jewelry against teeth can also cause damage. Oral piercing could also lead to more serious infections, like hepatitis or endocarditic. If you pierce your tongue, lips, cheeks or uvula (the tiny tissue that hangs at the back of the throat,) it can interfere with speech, chewing or swallowing. It may also cause:

Infection, pain and swelling
The wound created by piercing, the vast amount of bacteria in the mouth, and the introduction of additional bacteria from handling the jewelry all work to increase the risk of infections. Your mouth is a moist environment, home to huge amounts of breeding bacteria, and an ideal place for infection. An infection can quickly become life threatening if not treated promptly. It’s also possible for a piercing to cause your tongue to swell, potentially blocking your airway. Transmission of diseases. Oral piercing is a potential risk factor for the transmission of herpes simplex virus and hepatitis B and C.


Because of the wound created by the piercing, there's a chance that bacteria could enter the bloodstream and lead to the development of endocarditic -- an inflammation of the heart or its valves -- in certain people with underlying (and often undiagnosed and without symptoms) heart problems.

Nerve damage/prolonged bleeding. Numbness or loss of sensation at the site of the piercing or movement problems (for pierced tongues) can occur if nerves have been damaged. If blood vessels are punctured, prolonged bleeding can occur. Tongue swelling following piercing can be severe enough to block the airway and make breathing difficult.

Damage to gums, teeth and fillings. A common habit of biting or playing with the piercing can injure your gums and lead to cracked, scratched or sensitive teeth. Piercings can also damage fillings. Teeth that come into contact with mouth jewelry can chip or crack. One study in a dental journal reported that 47% of people wearing barbell tongue jewelry for 4 or more years had at least one chipped tooth

Difficulties in daily oral functions. Tongue piercing can result in difficulty chewing and swallowing food and speaking clearly. This is because the jewelry stimulates an excessive production of saliva. Temporary or permanent drooling is another consequence of increased saliva production. Taste can also be altered.

Hypersensitivity to metals. Allergic reactions at the pierced site are also possible. Jewelry that becomes loose in the mouth can become a choking hazard and, if swallowed, can result in injury to the digestive track or lungs.

Nerve damage. After a piercing, you may experience a numb tongue that is caused by nerve damage that is usually temporary, but can sometimes be permanent. The injured nerve may affect your sense of taste, or how you move your mouth. Damage to your tongue’s blood vessels can cause serious blood loss.

Excessive drooling. Your tongue piercing can increase saliva production.

Dental appointment difficulties. The jewelry can get in the way of dental care by blocking X-rays.

**If you have decided to go through with the oral piercing procedure despite these risks, consider the following tips when looking for an oral piercing studio.

-Ask friends who have had their tongue, lips, or cheeks pierced -- and have suffered no ill consequences - to recommend the name of the studio they visited.
-Visit the studio. Does the studio have a clean appearance, especially the area where the piercing is done? Ask if they use hospital-grade autoclaves for sterilization and/or use disposable instruments. Does the staff use disposable gloves?
-Ask to see the studio's health certificates.
-Are all the needles, as well as the studs, hoops, and barbells, kept in sterilized packaging?
-Are all staff members involved in the piercings vaccinated against hepatitis B? They should be.

*If the staff is not friendly or willing to answer all of your questions, consider finding another piercing studio.

**If you already have piercings:

-Contact your dentist or physician immediately if you have any signs of infection—swelling, pain, fever, chills, shaking or a red-streaked appearance around the site of the piercing.
-Keep the piercing site clean and free of any matter that may collect on the jewelry by using a mouth rinse after every meal.
Try to avoid clicking the jewelry against teeth and avoid stress on the piercing. Be gentle and aware of the jewelry’s movement when talking and chewing.
-Check the tightness of your jewelry periodically (with clean hands). This can help prevent you from swallowing or choking if the jewelry becomes dislodged.
-When taking part in sports, remove the jewelry and protect your mouth with a mouthguard.
-See your dentist regularly, and remember to brush twice a day and floss daily.
-Of course the best option is to consider removing mouth jewelry before it causes a problem. Don’t pierce on a whim. The piercing will be an added responsibility to your life, requiring constant attention and upkeep. Talk to your dentist for more information.

**Caring for Your Oral Piercing at Home
-A pierced tongue can take four to six weeks to heal. Pierced lips take between one and two months to heal. During this healing period, here's what you should do:

-Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and hard and sticky foods.
-Don't smoke or use tobacco-based products.
-Brush after every meal and rinse with a mouthwash, such as Listerine.
-Rinse your mouth frequently with warm salt water.
-Eat soft foods. Consult with your dentist about taking vitamins to promote faster healing.
-Make an appointment with your dentist if you suspect a problem or have a concern. It is critical for dentists to check your teeth, gums, tongue, and soft tissues for early signs of any problems.

**Warning Signs After an Oral Piercing:

If you notice any of the following warning signs after getting an oral piercing, contact a health care professional right away:

-Yellow or green discharge from the piercing site (Note: A whitish or clear discharge is normal)
-Scarring or thickened tissue that builds up and darkens around the piercing site
-Increased redness, pain and tenderness, or swelling at the piercing site
-A pimple-like abscess on the piercing site
-Bleeding or tearing after the initial healing of the piercing
-A low-grade fever that is persistent in the days following piercing