If your teen wants to pierce her tongue, you might ask her if she’s thought about the chipped teeth, drooling, gum damage, nerve damage, taste loss, tooth loss or infection that could occur as a result. The problems that can arise from an oral piercing might surprise both of you. In fact, most dentists discourage oral piercing because of these risks.
Fractured teeth are a common problem for people with tongue piercings. People chip teeth on tongue piercings while eating, sleeping, talking and chewing on the jewelry. The fracture can be confined to the enamel of the tooth and require a filling or it may go deep into the tooth, which may require a root canal or tooth extraction.
It is not unusual for the tongue to swell after being punctured, but in some cases the tongue swells so much that it can cut off a person’s breathing. In rare cases, doctors may pass a breathing tube through a patient's nose until the swelling subsides.
Infections from tongue piercings are also common because the tongue is covered with bacteria. The moment the tongue is punctured, these bacteria may be introduced into the blood. Dentists are learning that oral infections can lead to infections in other parts of the body as well. Bacteria can reach your heart and cause a variety of health problems. A dentist or doctor should be consulted at the very first sign of infection.
Although any piercing is prone to infection, a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health (January 2011) found that stainless steel jewelry can accumulate more bacteria than jewelry made from plastics such as Teflon® (or polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE). So, if your teen insists on getting an oral piercing, wearing plastic jewelry rather than metal may pose less risk for infection.
A dentist or doctor should be consulted at the very first sign of infection.
Make sure that the piercer uses the right kind of metal, such as surgical-grade stainless steel. Some people have allergic reactions to certain metals, which can lead to further complications.
Keep it clean
If your teen does decide to have her tongue pierced, she should realize that it will take four to six weeks to heal and it may be very uncomfortable. The piercer will place a larger, starter “barbell” in the tongue to give it enough room to heal when the tongue swells. After the swelling goes down, she should get a smaller barbell, which will be less likely to get in the way of teeth and more difficult to chew on.
If there are no complications, the barbell can be removed for short periods of time without the hole closing. Some dentists suggest that to protect teeth patients should remove the barbell every time they eat, sleep or engage in strenuous activity. Some piercing parlors sell plugs that can be placed in the hole, so the barbell can be removed for as long as necessary.
Your teen will need to keep the piercing clean. She should use an antiseptic mouthwash after every meal and brush the jewelry the same as she would her teeth to remove any unseen plaque.
So You Want to Pierce Your Tongue? Academy of General Dentistry.
Tongue Piercing: The Effect of Material on Microbiological Findings, Journal of Adolescent Health (January 2011).
Last updated: March 2010
The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.