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A tongue ring is a piece of jewelry that's inserted through a pierced hole in the tongue. While tongue rings are popular, they come with risks, including infections.1
Tongue rings present a unique opportunity for germs to enter the body. This is true because they can be particularly challenging to keep clean.
The mouth is a warm, moist environment naturally filled with bacteria and food particles. This means any new opening in the tissue can become infected.
However, infections aren't inevitable. Proper care can help the wound heal, reduce the risk of infection, and keep the tongue piercing in place.
A small survey found 3 in 51 people with tongue rings developed infections marked with pain, redness, swelling, and a bad taste.2 Tongue rings may also cause inflammation, especially if the tongue rubs against the jewelry.
These infections and inflammation can look alarming. You may notice:3
In addition to visual symptoms, infected tongue piercings can also cause:
You can usually treat mild infections at home. But if you have severe symptoms, see a doctor.
If you have a mild infection, follow these steps:
Removing the tongue piercing means the area that was pierced can close, causing bacteria to become trapped inside the hole. This allows the infection to spread.
Likewise, touching the piercing can introduce new bacteria into the hole. Only touch the piercing when necessary, such as for cleaning it.
Rinsing with a saltwater solution is a safe way to clean an infected tongue piercing.
The most effective concentration is below 2% salt. To make this solution, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 250 milliliters of water. Rinse with the saline solution in the morning, evening, and after eating.4
To remove any crusting, gently wipe the area surrounding the tongue piercing with the saltwater solution and a cotton swab.
Sucking on ice chips, popsicles, or ice cream can help numb the pain and reduce swelling. You can repeat these as often as necessary.
Alternatively, you can use a cold or frozen compress for relief. Gently apply it to the area for no more than 5 minutes.
Chamomile has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying a warm chamomile compress may help accelerate the healing process.5
All you need is a cup of chamomile tea and a clean cloth. Dip the cloth in the brewed tea and wring out excess liquid. Then, apply it to the piercing for 5 minutes, twice a day, or as needed.
Alternatively, you can use a warm tea bag as a compress.
Keeping your mouth clean by practicing good dental hygiene is crucial for healing any oral infection.
Eating soft foods can prevent irritation of the tongue piercing. Choose nutrient-rich options like:
Avoid crunchy or hard foods that could irritate the piercing or get stuck in the jewelry. Also, avoid acidic foods and spices like peppers and chili powder that can aggravate the wound.
Over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can reduce pain. Follow the package directions for dosage.
If you have any concerns about your piercing, contact your piercer. They can evaluate the situation and provide guidance on what to do next.
See a doctor immediately if you have symptoms that indicate a serious infection, such as swelling, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, or severe pain. These could be signs of a life-threatening condition, like tetanus or heart inflammation (endocarditis).
Although rare, it's important to be aware of severe infection symptoms and seek medical attention if and when they occur.2
It's best to prevent infections before they start. To do so, here are some helpful tips:
Choose a licensed, reputable piercer with experience performing tongue piercings. Ensure they use sterile needles, tools, and jewelry.
It's possible to contract serious viral infections like hepatitis and HIV from unsanitary body piercing practices, so be vigilant.2
Your piercer should provide specific instructions on how to take care of your piercing. They should cover how to clean the area and what to do if it looks infected.
Follow their instructions carefully to prevent infection and ensure proper healing.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to a healing piercing. For one, it can irritate the tongue ring. Cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that can delay healing and increase your risk of infection.6
If you smoke, it's best to wait to get your tongue pierced until you quit.
Kissing and oral sex can aggravate the piercing and introduce new bacteria into the wound. Avoid these activities for several weeks while the piercing heals.7
Avoid sharing utensils, cups, straws, or food while your piercing heals or is infected. This can help prevent bacteria from spreading.
Touching the piercing can introduce bacteria and harm the surrounding tissue. Minimize contact as much as possible unless you're cleaning the area.
Tongue ring infections are relatively common but can usually be treated at home with simple self-care measures. These include cleaning the tongue piercing, using a saltwater rinse, and applying ice or cold compresses.
However, if symptoms persist or worsen, contact a doctor. The infection may worsen or spread if you avoid medical treatment.
To reduce the risk of infection, choose a reputable piercer and follow their aftercare instructions carefully. Also, avoid smoking, kissing, and sharing utensils or food while the tongue piercing heals.
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