Pros & cons of getting my tongue pierced?
September 19, 2006 10:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm 28 and I'm thinking about getting my tongue pierced. What cultural & medical pros and cons should I be aware of?

I work in a web shop which is really casual (I could go to work in shorts and sandals if I wanted to), so I don't see work being an issue. Then again, if I were to get one, I'd probably take it out for the occasional client meeting. That aside, what about the rest of society? I have piercing-positive friends and they'd probably smile at first and then go about the rest of their day. However, does society at large have preconceptions about people with tongue piercings?

On the health side, this article with coverage of the British Dental Association's stance (from 1999, admittedly) kinda scared the hell out of me. Is that mostly scare tactics or is there a significant chance of the side effects like those in the article? More specifically, I've heard anecdotally that tongue piercings can / tend to chip one's teeth. Is that inevitable, preventable, or just bunk?
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Be careful about taking them out - mine healed over incredibly fast - like a matter of hours.

Also, my bottom barbell ball kept coming loose and occasionally would come off and I'd bite down on a piece of metal. I've heard anecdotal evidence of people swallowing them before.

My tongue was swollen for about a week, which made it difficult to eat. Also, I have some scarring on my tongue which makes it difficult to say certain consonant combinations, even after removing the piercing. I definitely had a bit of a speech impediment while pierced.

Tongue piercing used to be super trendy (see me in '97, but I was 18 then), but I haven't seen them a lot lately. Probably because they used to be super trendy and aren't so much anymore.
posted by mckenney at 10:57 AM on September 19, 2006

The only real medical risk (I didn't read the linked article but I'm sure I know what they're saying [DEATH!]) is chipped teeth and maybe a scar on your tongue if you take it out permanently.

Culturally? Depends on where you live. There will be a lot of problems some places and no problems other places.

Also, I had the same tongue swelling and speech issues that mckenney did, and though I have some scarring on my tongue, speech now isn't an issue.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:01 AM on September 19, 2006

When I had mine (like mckenney, I was super-hip in the late-90s, albeit somewhat older), I chipped a tooth. Honestly it's more of a pain in the butt than anything else. Why not start getting tattoos instead? More artistic. (I am not being sarcastic.)
posted by miss tea at 11:02 AM on September 19, 2006

I also used to have a tongue piercing and removed it for a variety of reasons the biggest being that it was causing sores behind my bottom teeth.

You will have to relearn how to talk and eat after getting it done. You'd be surprised at how large your tongue can swell. Fortunately the swelling only lasts a week (two at most). It does change the way you'll talk. I can always tell when someone has a tongue piercing just by the way they say certain words.

Listerine is your friend and during the healing process you'll use it so much it will lose its sting (during my healing I lost the ability to taste alcohol altogether - both a good thing and a bad thing ;)

After the piercing has healed completely you'll need to go back to your piercer to get the barbel changed to a shorter one. I would not recommend doing this yourself as they heal remarkably fast (mine healed over in less than a day) and the hole is hard to find on your own.
posted by LunaticFringe at 11:04 AM on September 19, 2006

Speaking purely from personal experience, a lot of people won't notice the tongue piercing at all. Once you get past the recovery period, you shouldn't be talking funny so it becomes fairly subtle. Especially if you have a clear bead, rather than a shiny metal one.

I have had no problems with it at various jobs. One hellish call center tried to take issue with it, but since you couldn't hear me lisping or it clicking while I was taking calls, they couldn't say anything.

Some people might make the assumption that a male with a tongue piercing = gay, but those in the know realize it just means that he probably gives good head (to a partner of either gender).

Chances are you'll initially get a long barbell and after a while, will transition to something shorter. Even with the shorter bar, it is possible to bite down on it while chewing. This has happened to me maybe a dozen times since I got it 6 years ago and I have yet to chip a tooth, YMMV.

One tip I can give you is that if you must idly play with (after healing of course), "train" yourself to play with it in a way that is NOT rubbing against your teeth. What I do is stick the bottom bead out between my lips and swing it back and forth with no tooth contact at all. Incidentally, this is a riot for my two year old niece :)

This is all completely anecdotal, maybe you should check out BME for more anecdotes and some professional advice.
posted by utsutsu at 11:04 AM on September 19, 2006

Finally a question I'm well qualified to answer!!! I got my tongue pierced about a month ago, and like you was a bit apprehensive about it, but I can reassure you that I have had no problems with mine and am really pleased that I went for it.

As for your first question, I think, yes, society does have preconceptions about people with tongue peircings, possibly more so than many other piercings (I have quite a few other ones and noone has really commented on these as much as the tongue). When people see it they generally say 'ewww yuk!' in a fascinated kind of way, and always ask if it hurt. The majority of older people think it's horrible I think, but younger people seem to think it's kinda cool. Also you should be aware that a small majority of people seem to think that a tongue peircing indicates you are slutty. I (and probably most people!) disagree with this, but I think it stems from the fact that a tongue piercing is meant to give your partner heightened pleasure during oral sex! All of the above comments regarding others' views should be considered with the fact that people don't have to know if you don't want them to - you really can't see it in someone's mouth, unless you happen to laugh or talk with a wide mounth!! Also, if it's not suitable for a future job you can just take it out!!

Regarding health issues:

- Infections: Yes, there is a chance of infection during the healing process, but if you follow your piercer's instructions and clean the area well, you really shouldn't have any problems. As with all piercings, use a reputable piercer.

- Teeth cracking/ chipping: Supposedly dentists disapprove of tongue peircings for this reason, but I actually went to the dentist a week ago and he said there are rarely issues with tongue piercings. When you first have it pierced they will use a large bar (22mm) to allow for swelling, and when the swelling goes down you will find yourself accidentally biting it a lot while eating, but I didn't crack any teeth! They change the bar after 10 days or so to a smaller one (mine's now 16mm) and I don't bite it at all because there's no excess bar to bite!

- Cyst formation/scarring/vein damage: I would imagine these are all very rare, and again, if you choose a qualified, experienced piercer he/she will know how to avoid these problems.

- Swelling: My tongue swelled loads for the first 3 days or so. Yours may not swell so much, and I did talk a lot on the day I had it done, which they advise against! I just sucked ice, and ate/drank soup and milkshakes. The swelling isn't dangerous because they should allow for swelling by using a larger bar (see above).

- You didn't ask about it, but pain!: My piercer used dental anaesthetic and I couldn't feel a thing during the peircing. For a few days after it throbbed a bit, and it was painful to eat when I first tried solid food, but painkillers and anti-inflammatories will do the trick.

I think I have about covered everything...this must be my longest post ever!!
posted by schmoo at 11:05 AM on September 19, 2006

Cultural: you'll look like a tool.
posted by reklaw at 11:08 AM on September 19, 2006 [5 favorites]

Oh nooooooo! While I was composing that comment all you guys beat me to it!! Well I hope some of my advice is useful anyway, even if it is just echoing a lot of above!!
posted by schmoo at 11:08 AM on September 19, 2006

You can mostly avoid chipped teeth and enamel damage by using a non-metal barbell like nylon or acrylic (which is what my dentist suggested).

I never had any speech impediment while healing or afterwards, and I had the piercing for almost five years. I've had it out for about a year now and it still hasn't closed completely, but it's no big deal.
posted by robinpME at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2006

I work in a dental office, and I've had a tongue piercing. Yes, those side effects are possible. I removed my piercing after a bout of strep throat turned into rheumatic fever. There is a link between dental hygeine and cardiac health, so yes, there are actual medical risks involved. That said, there are a lot of scare tactics out there when it comes to body modifications of any kind, and with proper care and going to a reputable piercer, these risks are minimal.

I've never met anyone with a tongue piercing who hasn't unconsciously played with it constantly. That's how chipped teeth happen.

Should you decide to get one, follow the aftercare instructions carefully, and try to step up your dental homecare routine to prevent infection. Also keep an eye on the tightness of the bottom ball. I swallowed mine once, and that was an embarrassing trip to the walk-in clinic. (I wanted to make sure I hadn't aspirated it. I didn't, and I got a neat x-ray out of the experience)
posted by Ruki at 11:10 AM on September 19, 2006

"However, does society at large have preconceptions about people with tongue piercings?"
I don't know of any reputable mass studies on the issue. So I can only offer my immediate (silent) reaction to folks with tongue piercings:

"Uh oh, another special snowflake with issues. And maybe a lousy sex life." Anthropological study sample size = 1. YMMV.

But seriously, this is an entirely personal choice. Such piercings are no longer novel enough to make one stand out particularly (although they'll be noted for ancillary identification on many arrest records), or decorative enough to be visually interesting. And my experience with body modders is that they are particularly unlikely to be disabused of their inner needs to constantly display a bad idea.

So, go for it!
posted by paulsc at 11:13 AM on September 19, 2006

If you do this, for heaven's sake make sure you have a very experienced piercer. Here's's guide to picking a place, and I do recommend extensive reading over at BMEzine.
posted by ilsa at 11:16 AM on September 19, 2006

Cultural: you'll look like a tool.

Yeah, I was trying to hint at that without actually saying it. I would think someone in their late 20s now with a tongue piercing was just getting the whole "hey, check it out, I'm still totally a rebel, you guys" thing out there.

28 is way too old for a facial piercing. I think that stuff is the domain of people who are still old enough to be cast members of "The Real World". Once you're no longer MTV's demographic, its time has passed.
posted by mckenney at 11:23 AM on September 19, 2006

I used to take mine out to gross out the kids. It was pretty funny to watch their reactions.
posted by KathyK at 11:33 AM on September 19, 2006

Just a counter-point to those who say you'll look like a tool, etc.

That is their shit, not yours. If this is something you want for yourself then go for it. It doesn't matter what box other people put this in.
posted by utsutsu at 11:45 AM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

28 is way too old for a facial piercing. I think that stuff is the domain of people who are still old enough to be cast members of "The Real World". Once you're no longer MTV's demographic, its time has passed.

Unless of course, you just like them. Not everybody pierces for shock value or trendiness.

/pierced 35-year-old fiance of a recently pierced 40-year-old
posted by jonmc at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I knew someone who got their tongue pierced and eventually it deadened the main nerve in their tongue. Once that happens, that's it, no sensation back, ever.

Very rare, but not a risk I'd be willing to take.
posted by agregoli at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2006

Regarding cultural perceptions and preconceived notions, let me quote Chris Rock: "If a girl has a pierced tongue, she'll probably suck your dick. If a guy has a pierced tongue, he'll probably suck your dick."
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2006

You've already pretty much seen the skew of how people might react, from "it's lame!" to "it's cool!" or "do what you like!" so you have to keep that in mind. I live in a pretty rural area and had dreadlocks and a nose ring and people just sort of didn't care, or if they did, they kept it to themselves. In other places, people will mention it, make fun of it, or just silently disdain it, just like they might do for anything that looks different but especially so with something like this because it's a clear choice on your part.

Since you can always take it out, if you think it's something you'd like and you've read the downsides (yes chipped tooth risk is real, yes side effects are rare but real) you can try it and see. I personally don't have that "only kids have pierced tongues" feeling about body modifications generally, but it's another sample size = 1 data point.
posted by jessamyn at 12:07 PM on September 19, 2006

New oral piercings [lip & tongue] can be a bit of a pain to heal - they make talking and eating more difficult at first, and they're sort of awkwardly positioned for the sort of cleaning and soaking that piercers tend to suggest for other piercings. You'll also have to get used to using mouthwash. Your experiences may vary, of course.

All oral piercings run some risk of damaging teeth, but it's not a huge risk if you have well-sized jewelry and you train yourself to keep the center of your tongue further from the sides of your teeth. As for the other laundry lists of risks you can find: as with all piercings, bad things can happen, yes. However, they're sort of like the lists of possible medication side-effects. If you follow the instructions of your piercer, take good care of your piercing [after all, it's your body], and contact your piercer immediately if something seems strange, odds are you'll be OK.

The BMEzine encyclopaedia has a page about tongue piercings. [Check out BMEzine in general! As people have said, it's the biggest piercing resource online, and is a good starting-point for finding out what it's like to get and care for a piercing or where the good piercing places are in a given city.]

Regarding the cultural implications: yeah, some people will assume you're an unemployable freak for having a tongue piercing, and others will assume that the only reason you could possibly have for wanting one is some misbegotten desire to be cool [naturally, their reasons for getting their prince albert piercing are much more valid.] However, tongue-piercings aren't all that visible, as piercings go. Only you can decide whether you'll find it too annoying to deal with either concealing the piercing with clear jewelry or with the assumptions people may make about you, your character, and your reasons for getting a piercing.
posted by ubersturm at 12:11 PM on September 19, 2006

31 yr old female here. Tongue has been pierced for 9 yrs. Been working non-profit and corporate for these 9 yrs with no problem.

The friend who pierced her tongue at the same time and place - took hers out a few months later after chipping a tooth which required way too much dental work.

It really depends on you and your mouth. Talking and eating are a problem at first. I was a smoker at the time and think this may have had something to do with how long my tongue remained swollen for. The initial post and ball clanked against my teeth every so often. Once I had my smaller post put in (after the swelling had gone down) there's hardly any clanking and I've only bitten down on it a few times.

Most of the previous posters have hit on the major data to take into account if you want your tongue pierced. Some have given you their personal opinions, both negative and positive. If you want to get your tongue pierced go for it, it's entirely your decision.

A tongue piercing isn't going to make you a tool if you're aren't already one. Most people won't even realize you have one unless you want them to or you're a mouthbreather.
posted by Constant Reader at 12:16 PM on September 19, 2006

The chris rock quote is right on, fair or unfair.

The majority of older people think it's horrible I think, but younger people seem to think it's kinda cool.

And when you look back at what you thought was cool when you were 'young' you'll probably cringe.
posted by justgary at 12:17 PM on September 19, 2006

However, does society at large have preconceptions about people with tongue piercings?

"If a girl has a pierced tongue, she will probably suck your dick. If a guy has a pierced tongue, he will probably suck your dick." -- Chris Rock
posted by matteo at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2006

preview. heh.
posted by matteo at 12:19 PM on September 19, 2006

Cultural: If you absentmindedly click it along the back of your teeth all the freaking time, I will fantasize about kicking you.

Otherwise, do whatcha like. I think it's cute.
posted by desuetude at 12:22 PM on September 19, 2006

Get some plastic balls, so you can swap them in when you're sick of wracking your teeth with metal.
posted by jedrek at 1:10 PM on September 19, 2006

I had mine done in college, about 10 years ago, and took it out several years afterward. I had come to realize that, while I didn't necessarily get it to be different, I started to feel annoyed that so many people around me had the same thing. It seemed to have become sort of the equivalent of the "Rachel" haircut of the early-mid 90s.

Others have more than covered the possibility of scarring/tooth damage/nerve damage/swallowing the ball that secures to the barbell. I'll just add that I experienced kind of an icky-looking bubble thing under my tongue while I had it (maybe from the pressure of the ball nesting in the soft tissue?). Also, I hadn't realized until I removed it just how much range of motion my tongue had lost while I had it in. Suddenly I could touch my back teeth and my soft palate with my tongue again! This may have been a factor of the thickness of barbell gauge I used, but still, it was fun to rediscover what my tongue could do.
posted by justonegirl at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2006

utsutsu writes "That is their shit, not yours. If this is something you want for yourself then go for it. It doesn't matter what box other people put this in."

Yes. Unless your getting this for the shock value who cares what anyone (except possibly your employer) else thinks.
posted by Mitheral at 1:52 PM on September 19, 2006

I'm 25 with 11 piercings (including my tongue) and I am a complete tool.

As for the tongue, I've had it pierced for nearly 10 years and I've never chipped a tooth, I still have all the feeling in my tongue, and nobody has ever called me gay because of it. So, yeah - it works for me.
posted by Bageena at 1:54 PM on September 19, 2006

I had my tongue pierced for about five years (took it out at age 24 because I decided I was too old for it). It transformed my nocturnal tooth-grinding habit into a nocturnal chomping-on-my-barbell habit. Totally trashed my teeth. Even if you don't chip a tooth, biting down on the barbell can cause microfractures that make your teeth more sensitive and can lead to bigger, more expensive problems.
posted by makonan at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2006

At 36 I miss mine and would get it done again if I didn't have to deal with the healing process, during which you really should be celibate if you want to heal responsibly. The only reason I don't still have it is that I took it out for throat surgery and didn't put it in promptly enough again before it healed up. They DO heal fast as hell - I'd had it for over 5 years at that point and after 4 days out, bing, closed up.

As far as people seeing it, it's really hard to know how visible it will be. Mine people would spot in a nanosecond. A friend of mine people would know for months without spotting it. A difference in face-shape and the way one talks, I suppose. However you can just get a no-see-um style and nobody will ever know, either the super-stealthy flat topped ones or simply a red acrylic.

As far as this: "if I were to get one, I'd probably take it out for the occasional client meeting." - no you won't. For one, it's no fun. For another, the visual of someone putting one in or out is WAY more skeeving to the average joe than someone who just has one.

The only other possible issue you might have is with talking. I think claiming you'll have to learn to talk again is overstating things, however it did take me several weeks to correct a slight lisp the thing gave me. Be prepared to not want to talk AT ALL for the first week as you heal.

I'd say go for it, but then my experience was very positive.
posted by phearlez at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2006

I work a corporate job and have my tongue pierced. It does not affect how people treat me in a professional context for the most part; the only person who has expressed disdain also openly states that women aren't as capable of doing technical work as men (in other words, I wasn't going to win with this person anyway).

Once your piercing is healed, you can purchase a ball for your barbell that is shaped like a tongue-colored half-dome. It's great camoflauge for the piercing. You could try that instead of taking out your piercing for meetings so that there's no risk of the piercing closing.
posted by rhiannon at 3:19 PM on September 19, 2006

In this months 'sassy' (omg kurt and courtney on the cover omg), jane totally brags about hooking-up with this guy who had his tongue pierced and said it was id say go for it/
posted by naxosaxur at 4:07 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had mine for less than a year in the late '90s -- took it out b/c I got tired of it rubbing my gums behind my lower teeth.

DO NOT take it out for a client meeting. The tongue heels super fast. You can buy "invisible" ones with a flesh-colored top part. I wore mine whenever I went home for the holidays in college and my parents still have no idea I ever had my tongue pierced.

It didn't seem to affect my speech at all and I never chipped a tooth. That said, I have ZERO interest in getting anything pierced again. Not sure if it's just because I'm older or it's not in as it used to be. I'm still getting tattoos though so it's not like I outgrew the body-modification thing.
posted by awegz at 5:05 PM on September 19, 2006

I have a small mouth, and in just six months my tongue piercing wore away several millimeters of gums and exposed the roots of my teeth. I may eventually need gum surgery as a result. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it sucks if it happens to you.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:12 PM on September 19, 2006

I should add -- it was my second piercing that lasted six months. The first time I got my tongue pierced I got an infection. My tongue swelled up so big I could barely swallow and had to go to the doctor. I took it out in order for my tongue to heal.

People I kissed while pierced said it was awesome, but I didn't get any extra pleasure out of the piercing at all.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:13 PM on September 19, 2006

Having recently spent a lot of time managing dental offices I think I should chime in here with the risk of bleeding to death through your tongue. Extremely gruesome. Doesn't happen often, but I can't call the risk slight. There is also the risk, as noted above, that infection may cause damage to heart tissue. If you are going to get your tongue pierced, I suggest going for a complete physical examination first - blood work and all - because if you have a mitral valve prolapse, or any immune compromising diseases new piercings are not a fun way to find out.

Also, have a dentist. If you have not been getting regular cleanings and dental x rays, start doing that before someone puts a hole in your tongue. Again, if you have any dental problems you really don't want them exacerbated by another problem. *For instance, 80 percent of Americans have some sort of gum inflammation/infection and don't know it on their own. So get all that stuff cleaned up first, and then have a ball with the body mods.
posted by bilabial at 2:20 AM on September 20, 2006

I worked (weekend job, not 40 hours a week) with a guy for over a year before I noticed he had his tongue pierced, so it's not something that everyone on the street will spot. I think it looks nice, but it's not a big deal.
posted by jacalata at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2006

« Older A book on native pain rituals?   |   How can I educate my kids with a balanced view of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.