Tongue Piercing May Bring Harm to Teeth and Gums

Dr. Reza Written by Dr. Reza Khazaie

Adults seeking tongue and lip piercings should also consider the potential health risks associated with having jewelry in the mouth before making a decision.

Tongue piercing, lip piercing, and other oral piercing procedures aren’t just inadvisable, they can bring great harm to your teeth and gums.

Tongue Piercing Proves Problematic

A tongue piercing, or piercing in the ears or elsewhere, is an age-old form of decorative body art and a powerful way for many to express themselves. In many cultures, including modern American culture, piercings are trendy. Demand for piercings is at an all-time high. There are more young people between the ages of 18 and 29 that have piercings than ever before. Over 40 percent of all US adults have at least one piercing.

Tongue Piercing - concord ca dentist

The rise in popularity of piercings amongst the young, particularly young adults and teens, isn’t just limited to the ears. Oral piercings, and tongue piercings, in particular, are also trendy. However, unlike piercings in the ears or other external bodily structures, piercings on the tongue and in the oral cavity can be significantly trickier to get right and lead to serious oral health issues. While tongue piercings, lip piercings, and other types of piercings into the oral cavity may look cool to teens, they can be hazardous for your health.

Tongue Piercing Illustration - dentists concord ca

Is A Tongue Piercing Attractive?

The Dangers of a Tongue Piercing

A tongue piercing may be a danger for a wide variety of reasons. The mouth, including the soft tissues of the gums, tongue, and teeth, are complex structures. These structures can be harmed when a piercing, such as a metal barbell, is thrown into the mix. Lips and tongue piercings can damage teeth, cause scrapes and cuts inside the mouth, and become severely infected.

Your mouth contains a multitude of bacteria. Mixing microbes and open wounds is never a good recipe for good oral health. Introducing microbes from the mouth into a cut or a scrape can lead to serious health problems including infections, abscesses, or even endocarditis. Oral piercings can be very bad for the health of your teeth and gums.

Oral Piercings Are Bad for Your Teeth

Oral piercings can scrape against your teeth causing visible damage. Accidentally biting down on a metal barbell or similar piece of oral jewelry can cause a tooth to fracture, chip, or break off altogether. Many patients come to us seeking to repair or replace teeth that are damaged due to contact with an oral piercing. If the crack or fracture in a tooth is deep enough or affects the roots, a root canal or total extraction may be necessary.

Oral Piercings Are Bad for Your Lips and Gums

Oral piercings will naturally make contact with the sensitive soft tissues in your mouth. Unfortunately, metal piercings are not exceptionally forgiving and will easily damage the inner lining of your mouth as well as your lips and gums. Scrapes and cuts are not only uncomfortable, but they can also quickly become infected leading to serious health problems.

Furthermore, damage to the gums can lead to permanent scarring, gum recession and exacerbate existing periodontal issues such as gingivitis or periodontitis.

Oral Piercings Are Bad for your Daily Life

Beyond the potential to directly damage your teeth and gums, oral piercings may also be responsible for a host of other oral problems, such as uncontrollable drooling, difficulty eating, chewing, biting, and speaking, and may trigger allergic reactions.

What If I Already Have A Tongue Piercing?

Most dentists and oral doctors do not recommend oral piercings for aesthetic purposes. The potential risks to a person’s oral and dental health simply cannot be justified in most cases. However, many people will still choose to get a tongue or oral piercing(s). For these people, I want to provide the following advice so that you are cautious and extra vigilant and that you practice good oral hygiene habits.

Below are my tips for those seeking an oral piercing that I can’t convince to forego or already have an oral piercing.

1. Seek a specialist

Always seek out a knowledgeable and trained piercing specialist. Like any professional, find a piercing specialist with experience and an excellent track record of producing successful results.

Always ask your piercer lots of questions — see my recommended list of questions to ask further in this article. Do not be afraid to walk away from a piercing parlor that you aren’t comfortable with or who do not practice in a hygienic environment.

2. Ensure the piercer (specialist) has been vaccinated for Hepatitis B

Always ask your piercer if they have been vaccinated for Hepatitis B. You can quickly spread this widespread disease through a dirty piercing needle and contact with blood or bodily fluids. Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver and can cause fatal liver failure.

Over 257 million people are estimated to be carriers of the hepatitis B virus.

3. Do not use a piercing gun.

Do not go to a piercer that uses a piercing gun. The use of a piercing gun most likely indicates that the piercer is inexperienced. Furthermore, piercing guns do not produce clean results leading to partial pierces that can become infected.

4. Do not use a “used” or “refurbished” needle.

Never use a used needle. Always use a new needle.

5. Use ONLY surgical steel, gold, or platinum jewely.

Ensure that jewelry is made from high-quality, inert metals such as surgical steel, gold, or platinum. This greatly minimizes the chances of an allergic reaction.

Cheap metals can trigger an allergic reaction that causes swelling and irritation.

6. Keep tongue piercing area clean.

After getting a piercing, it is crucial to keep the site of the fresh piercing as clean as possible. This can be difficult in the case of oral piercings because the mouth naturally contains millions of bacteria.

Always rinse your piercing site after every meal using a saline solution (saltwater) to wash away food debris and control local bacteria.

7. While healing abstain from kissing or sharing drinks.

Do not kiss someone or share drinks with them while the piercing is healing. Kissing and sharing drinks can introduce new microbes to the site of the wound, potentially leading to an infection.

8. Avoid spicy, salty, or sugary foods or beverages while healing.

Avoid foods and drinks that are too spicy, salty, or sugary.

Spicy, salty, and sugary foods and beverages can delay healing or irritate the wound.

While tongue piercings and other intraoral piercings may look cool, they can be a dental and oral health nightmare.

Parents should think twice about allowing their children to get oral piercings.

Before getting a tongue piercing, here are some questions you should ask the piercer along with my comments.

Researching and asking lots of questions helps ensure a tongue piercing is done as safely as possible to protect your health and minimize major risks or complications.

  • What are your qualifications and experience with tongue piercings?
    Don’t settle for inexperience look for several years of experience and Google reviews. Don’t dismiss negative reviews. SEEK A PROFESSIONAL!
  • Do you use single-use needles and sterilized instruments?
    This is vital to prevent infection. Don’t take their word for it look around and ask to see where sterilized instruments and needles are located.
  • What type of jewelry do you recommend for initial piercing and healing?
    High-quality surgical steel, titanium, or 14+kt gold are best. Don’t go with anything less.
  • What aftercare instructions do you provide to keep the piercing clean and healthy? Ask for detailed written guidelines. If they do not have written guidelines that are thorough, this is a huge WARNING.
  • How long is the initial healing period and what signs of infection should I watch for? As a Prosthodontist, I know that normal swelling subsides after a week or two.
  • How much space is needed between the piercing and my teeth and gums?
    This is major and will prevent dental complications. If they don’t seem to have an answer at the tip of their tongue (no pun intended), this would be a huge warning.
  • Do you pierce straight through the center of the tongue or off-center?
    Centered is standard.
  • Will the piercing affect my speech or oral function?
    You may have temporary changes while it heals.
  • What if I want to remove the piercing – will there be long-term damage?
    With proper placement, removal is safe with no permanent impacts.

Doing research and asking questions helps ensure a tongue piercing is done safely and professionally to protect your health and minimize risks or complications.

Suggested Reading

There are many resources available about tongue piercing from professional piercers. Here are some resources I suggest for reading.

Jef Saunders

Jef Saunders is known as a master piercer and is known for his technical skill and expertise in unique oral piercings. He is also co-author of The Piercing Bible: The Definitive Guide to Safe Piercing.

The Piercing Bible: The Definitive Guide to Safe Piercing - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA
PARADE Magazine - 2012 - Jef Saunders
Jef Saunders - Tongue Piercer

The most renowned tongue piercers have specialized expertise from years of focused experience, mastery of placement and angles, and advanced training. Their skill enables unique designs.

APP – Association of Professional Piercers

Association of Professional Piercers

The APP (Association of Professional Piercers) has an in-depth tongue piercing FAQ covering risks, jewelry, placement and aftercare. The Association of Professional Piercers is the oldest and longest-running organization for professional piercing that was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in California. They have over 1,000 members according to their website.

  • Check out their FAQ page.
  • Find A Piercer – (Note: This is not an endorsement by Dr. Reze Khazaie or Willow Pass Dental Care and any of its associates.)
  • Know Your Rights

This site also has a section on Suggested Aftercare for Body Piercings.

Tongue Piercing Options You Should Absolutely Avoid

Rogue Piercing Studios provides a step-by-step walkthrough on what you can expect during a tongue piercing and aftercare.

They also go over the anatomy of the tongue and the anatomical limitations of a tongue piercing and the options that should absolutely be avoided.

Tongue Piercing 101 – by Lynn Loheide, Professional Piercer

Association of Professional Piercers

Lynn Loheide’s article on Tongue Piercing 101 covers a lot of aspects including the Do’s and Don’ts. Lynn is a definite resource you should study for tongue piercings.

Those who choose to get intraoral jewelry should practice careful hygiene and the utmost caution to avoid unintentionally damaging their gums and teeth.

Comprehensive Guide to Tongue Piercings – by Geaux Gretchen

This is a must-watch video for those considering tongue piercings.