Tongue piercing…what could possibly go wrong?


Stud stats

  • 10% of adult English population have a piercing other than in the ear
  • 46% of women aged 16-24 years have a piercing other than in the ear
  • Tongue piercing represents 10-16% of all piercings
  • % of piercings with general complications : 31%
  • % of piercings needing professional help : 15%
  • Record for individual with most number of piercings : 6005

ID-100162899Body piercing has its risks…it is a surgical procedure after all.

Practitioners and their customers would say that complications are relatively rare and rarely serious. They can be reduced by safe practice, rigorous aftercare and regular inspection so that any localised problems can be nipped in the bud.

But  most dental professionals advise against this particular form of body modification  because the tongue as a site of piercing presents a number of unusual problems.

Location, location, location

· Where the tongue sits

Swelling of an earlobe isn’t too much of a problem. But a swollen tongue is bad for your health!

Difficulties in swallowing, speech and even inability to breath due to airway blockage…these are serious consequences…in an “admission to intensive care” kind of way.

· Tongue anatomy

The tongue is home to lots of large blood vessels and nerves…and if these are damaged, you will know about it! If you curl your tongue to the roof if your mouth, you will see all the blue veins glistening back at you.

If a tongue piercing becomes infected, the Infections can spread very rapidly to the floor of the mouth, causing something called Ludwig’s angina.

This is a medical emergency as it also causes airway obstruction. There has been a recent case of an admission to intensive care due to Ludwig’s angina following a tongue piercing.

· Your mouth is teeming with bacteria

And viruses and fungi. This is part of the “normal oral flora” and these bugs generally do not cause problems.

But they do pose a threat if there is a wound in the mouth which is effectively what a piercing is in the first instance. So it may be more difficult to keep the piercing site clean compared with skin sites.

· Broken teeth

There is a reported increased incidence of chipped teeth and fillings for individuals with tongue piercings. There have also been reported cases of gum recession of the lower teeth.

Still keen?

So the advice from the dental professionals is “don’t do it!”. If things go wrong, they can go wrong spectacularly.

But if you remain unconvinced, here are the ways to reduce the likelihood of experiencing the complications of tongue piercing:

  • Choose licensed practitioners who are registered with the local authorities and are members of a professional association
  • Check the premises are clean and hygienic and that there are certificates on display confirming Health and Safety inspections. An “autoclave” should be on site for sterilisation of instruments.
  • Brush your teeth thoroughly before the piercing: rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash
  • Follow the aftercare advice scrupulously and inspect your piercing regularly
  • Keep your regular dental check-ups so your dentist can ensure your piercing is not causing oral health problems that you may not be able to spot yourself.

Do you have a tongue piercing? What are your experiences?

Or are you thinking about getting one…if so, has this article affected your decision?

Useful links

British Body Piercing Association

About the bugs that live in your mouth

Statistic Brain

About Cleveland Orthodontics

Our specialist-led practice has been established since 1996 and provides brace treatment to people of all ages from across the North East, including Middlesbrough, Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, Billingham and Redcar.

We offer NHS orthodontic treatment for children and a range of modern white and “invisible” braces for adults of all ages such as Invisalign. FREE consultations are available… you can either telephone for an appointment on 01642 243 020 or book through our website.

Image courtesy of stockimages at