For centuries Aztec and Mayan cultures indulged tongue piercings. Today, as much as 16% of the Western population has a pierced tongue. Experimenting with new looks is commonplace, however, as with any body modification it is important to be informed about proper care, cleaning and the associated risks.
Select a reputable shop and a piercer that is using properly sterilized equipment, as well as rigorous hygienic practices in their studio. Improperly sterilized equipment can spread diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, in addition to causing oral health infections. Taking proper hygienic precautions can minimize risk of infection. A tongue piercing should heal within about two weeks with a proper cleaning regimen.
The risks of tongue piercings
Some professionals claim that the risk of piercing the tongue is comparable to that of ear piercings. Many people with tongue piercings never experience a single complication; however others face more serious complications.
Common issues from an oral piercing can include excessive bleeding, mild infection, swelling and injuries to soft tissues and teeth. There is a risk of chipped or cracked teeth from accidentally biting the piercing, and certain kinds of restorations, such as costly porcelain caps or crowns, are at higher risk for damage. Many adults may also experience a temporary speech impediment while learning to articulate with the new hardware.
Several studies have also suggested that your gums are more likely to recede if the tongue is pierced. This is especially true along the inside and front of the mouth where the piercing repeatedly pushes against teeth.
Although rare, because your mouth is full of bacteria, failure to keep up with a new piercing could result in blood poisoning or fatal toxic shock syndrome. Other things to look out for include loose studs which can be swallowed or inhaled, severe swelling that can lead to blocked airways, allergic reactions to the metal or irreversible nerve damage.
Proper care for your tongue piercing
Keep an especially rigorous oral care routine to minimize bacteria in the mouth as much as possible. Brushing to avoid tongue inflammation and rinsing with an alcohol-based mouth wash several times a day, especially after meals, can help stave off bacteria that can lead to infections. Speak with your doctor about the best care routine for you, as well as discuss any possible infection.
Overall, self-expression through bodily modifications is never wrong, as long as you make informed decisions to keep yourself safe and healthy.