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Updated on September 6, 2022

Tongue Piercing Infection: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

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Tongue Ring Infections: How They Develop

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.

Young hipster man stick out his tongue with a piercing in it

What Does an Infected Tongue Piercing Look Like?

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

  • Redness or swelling around the tongue piercing
  • The piercing looks like it's sunk into the tongue
  • Yellow pus or clear fluid draining from the ring
  • A bump that forms in front of or behind the piercing

Other Symptoms of an Infected Tongue Piercing

In addition to visual symptoms, infected tongue piercings can also cause:

  • Pain when moving the piercing
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling 
  • Tenderness
  • Throbbing
  • Heat or warmth
  • Bleeding
  • An unpleasant taste
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

You can usually treat mild infections at home. But if you have severe symptoms, see a doctor.

Treating Tongue Ring Infections 

If you have a mild infection, follow these steps:

1. Don't remove the ring or touch it at home 

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.

2. Clean the area regularly

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.

3. Cool the area

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.

4. Try a chamomile compress

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. 

5. Keep your mouth clean

Keeping your mouth clean by practicing good dental hygiene is crucial for healing any oral infection.

Brushing your teeth properly twice daily and flossing regularly prevent food particles and bacteria from accumulating around oral piercings.

6. Eat soft foods

Eating soft foods can prevent irritation of the tongue piercing. Choose nutrient-rich options like:

  • Yogurt
  • Soup
  • Smoothies
  • Oatmeal

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.

7. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications

Over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can reduce pain. Follow the package directions for dosage.

Preventing Tongue Ring Infections 

It's best to prevent infections before they start. To do so, here are some helpful tips: 

1. Choose a reputable piercer

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

2. Follow aftercare instructions

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.

3. Avoid smoking

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.

4. Avoid kissing and oral sex

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

5. Don't share utensils or food

Avoid sharing utensils, cups, straws, or food while your piercing heals or is infected. This can help prevent bacteria from spreading.

6. Don't touch the piercing

Touching the piercing can introduce bacteria and harm the surrounding tissue. Minimize contact as much as possible unless you're cleaning the area.

When to Contact Your Piercer

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

Summary

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. 

7 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 6, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Oral Piercings.” American Dental Association.
  2. Yu, C.H. Y., et al. "Bacterial Infections Complicating Tongue Piercing." Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases & Medical Microbiology, 2010.
  3. Preslar, D., et al. “Body Piercing Infections,” 2022.
  4. Huynh, N., et al. "Rinsing with Saline Promotes Human Gingival Fibroblast Wound Healing In Vitro." PLoS One, 2016.
  5. Srivastava, J.K., et al. “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future (review),” 2010.
  6. "Smoking greatly increases the risk of complications after surgery." World Health Organization, 2020.
  7. Body Piercings: Cleaning and Healing,” UC Berkeley.
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