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Mouth Piercings - Types, Cleaning, Safety & Risks

Updated on August 3, 2022
Nandita Lilly
Written by Hana Ames
Medically Reviewed by Nandita Lilly

What are Mouth Piercings?

A mouth piercing is a form of body modification that involves inserting a piece of jewelry through the lips, tongue, or other parts of the mouth. 

Mouth piercings date back to archaeological records and continue in some modern cultures. The Moche of ancient Peru often wore gold or copper lip plugs, among many other types of piercings.1

Types of Oral Piercings

There are many different types of oral piercings:

Tongue

The most popular tongue piercing method is one piercing directly through the center of the tongue. Some people choose to have two or more tongue piercings.

This piercing is called dorsoventral tongue piercing, as it goes from the top through to the bottom of the tongue.

Some people have their tongue pierced through the width of their tongue, called dorsolateral tongue piercing. Most piercers won’t do this piercing, as they consider it too dangerous due to the number of blood vessels that could be nicked.

Lip

Lip piercings occur through or around the lips and come in different types, including:2 

  • Monroe
  • Madonna
  • Snake bites
  • Medusa (or philtrum)
  • Labret

There are also different styles to choose from, including:

  • Vertical labret
  • Ashley (inverted vertical labret)
  • Shark bites
  • Jestrum (vertical philtrum)
  • Spider bites
  • Angel bites
  • Cyber bites
  • Dolphin bites
  • Dahlia bites
  • Canine bites

Frenum

Two frenums in your mouth can be pierced. The upper one is above your top front teeth and is also known as a smiley piercing. The bottom frenum is under your tongue and is known as a tongue web piercing.

Uvula

A uvula piercing is when the dangly part that hangs at the back of the throat is pierced.

Cheek

Another piercing you may choose is to have your cheek pierced.

How to Choose a Reputable Piercer

There are several things to look out for when choosing a piercer. A reputable piercer should be licensed and have an up-to-date certification. They should also be registered professionally, such as with the Association of Professional Piercers (APP).3 

The APP is an international organization that provides professional development for piercers and supports members with continuing education programs.

Follow these steps to find a reputable piercer for your mouth piercing:

  1. Research piercers in your area and read reviews of their work. Look for any reviews that mention infections, a common sign they are unqualified.
  2. If you are looking for a piercer online, check out the Better Business Bureau's (BBB’s) website to see if they have any complaints on file.
  3. Check to see if the piercer is certified by an organization like the APP.
  4. Ensure that the piercer uses sterilized equipment and single-use needles.
  5. Ask what jewelry they pierce with. The size, style, material, and quality of the initial piece of jewelry all affect your ability to heal. Implant grade titanium or surgical stainless steel are the safest materials.4

Avoid the following factors when looking for a place to get your piercings:2

  • Cheap prices — extremely low prices usually indicate low-quality piercings and materials.
  • Dirty shop — a dirty shop is a breeding ground for bacteria that could cause an infection.
  • Dark room — a studio that is not well lit is a bad sign. You want your piercer to be able to see clearly when they’re piercing you.
  • Uncommunicative staff — if the staff either won’t answer your questions or do so begrudgingly, find a different place. The same goes for if they’re pushy about getting you into the piercing chair.
  • No gloves — all piercers should wear gloves. If the piercer you’re considering doesn’t wear gloves, go somewhere else.

Additionally, avoid places and piercers who use piercing guns. No reputable piercing studio or experienced piercer will use a piercing gun. This is because piercing guns:

  • Cause infections more frequently than needles because they cannot be sterilized easily
  • Use a blunt force to make a hole through the tissue with the end of the jewelry, which can cause extra swelling
  • Can cause the jewelry to become embedded in the skin

What Type of Jewelry is Used for Mouth Piercings?

The APP lists six materials appropriate for new piercings:

  1. Surgical stainless steel
  2. Implant-grade titanium
  3. Niobium
  4. Gold 
  5. Platinum
  6. Biocompatible polymers

Ideally, jewelry used for piercings should be made of implant-grade titanium or surgical stainless steel. These materials are least likely to cause issues such as infections.

Jewelry comes in different forms or shapes. The most popular ones are:

  • Studs — a metal post with a flat disc on one end and a sphere on the other end
  • Closed rings — a hoop without an end
  • Unclosed rings — a horseshoe-shaped bar with a sphere on each end
  • Barbells — an unclosed ring but either straight or slightly curved

Typically, the jewelry the piercer uses is larger than the jewelry you’ll wear once the piercing heals. This allows room for swelling and helps the piercing heal properly.

Pain and Healing Time

Oral piercings hurt, but the pain varies from person to person. Many people report that tongue piercings, for example, hurt a lot less than they expected. 

However, because you use your mouth to eat, there will likely be quite a bit of discomfort in the days after the initial piercing. Discomfort may not be so severe with other piercings.

Typically, oral piercings take around 2 to 3 months to heal.2 A small amount of bleeding, redness, and swelling is normal after a piercing. 

It should settle down after a few days. If you still have pain and swelling after a few days, you may have an infection.

Side Effects of Piercing

As with all body modifications, some side effects can occur from oral piercings: 

  • Allergic reactions to the metal or latex gloves
  • Keloids or scarring, which occurs if a piercing doesn’t heal properly (a keloid, or keloid scar, is a thick raised scar that feels like a bump)
  • Infections if you don’t keep the piercing clean

Oral Piercing Risks and Complications

There are some risks and complications specific to oral piercings. They can vary depending on the type and location:

  • Tooth damage — people may touch their oral piercings, running them over their teeth or biting down on the jewelry. This can cause cracked, chipped, scratched, or sensitive teeth.7
  • Nerve damage — tongue piercings, in particular, risk accidentally hitting a nerve. This can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage, affecting chewing and taste.
  • Gum recession — a tongue piercing can wear away gum tissue by friction, exposing the tooth roots. 
  • Speech changes  — some oral piercings impact how a person can speak, chew or swallow. 
  • Choking — this can happen if you accidentally swallow your oral piercing jewelry.6
  • Excessive drooling — this happens most commonly with tongue piercings due to increased saliva production.6

Because of the many risks, the official position of the American Dental Association (ADA) is against oral piercings.7

How to Clean Piercings and Prevent Infections

Piercings are a popular body modification, but they require care to maintain and prevent infection. Your piercer should provide you with aftercare instructions.

Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching any piercings. Additionally:

  • Buy a new toothbrush to avoid introducing bacteria to the piercing site
  • Brush your teeth three times a day with non-whitening toothpaste
  • Rinse with an antiseptic (non-alcoholic) mouthwash after eating and before sleep
  • Consider frequently rinsing with warm salt water by mixing 1/4 teaspoon salt in one cup of water

Additional Tips

Additional tips include:

  • Do not remove the jewelry until the piercing has fully healed
  • Take a daily multivitamin to promote faster healing
  • Don’t move, rotate, or play with the piercing with your tongue
  • Always wash your hands before you touch the piercing
  • Don’t smoke while the wound is healing
  • Limit kissing and other oral contact
  • Avoid public bodies of water, such as pools, lakes, ponds, and hot tubs

Signs of Infection and What to Do

Your mouth is full of bacteria that can infect the piercing site. Food that collects around the jewelry also allows bacteria to breed. And, when you touch your mouth jewelry, you may introduce bacteria from your hands to your mouth.

If you don’t keep the area clean, you may develop an infection at the piercing site, which may cause speech, chewing, and swallowing issues. They may also cause swelling, which can block the throat.

Signs of infection include:

  • Discharge oozing from the piercing site
  • Swelling that lasts more than a few days from the time of piercing
  • Fever
  • Redness or warmth at the piercing site
  • Tenderness or pain lasting longer than a couple of days after piercing

If you do have an infection, you can try the following

  • With clean hands, add ½ teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of water
  • Soak a cotton ball in the liquid and gently place it on the infected area
  • Use clean gauze to pat the area dry
  • Carefully apply a small amount of over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic cream to the infected area
  • Gently rotate the jewelry to stop it from sticking

If you’re unsure if you have an infection, seek professional advice as soon as possible.

Also, seek medical attention if the infection doesn’t clear up after 3 days of treating it at home. You may need to take oral antibiotics or remove the piercing.

Summary

Oral piercings are not recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA). They can cause damage to the teeth, among many other complications, if not cared for properly. However, many people experience no complications at all.

If you choose to get an oral piercing, make sure that you go to a reputable piercer. Follow the aftercare instructions carefully to ensure proper healing.

Last updated on August 3, 2022
1 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 3, 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. Seo, J. M. “How to Wear Body Ornaments from the Ancient Americas” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 21 Mar. 2018 
  2. Lip & Labret Piercing Information & Aftercare” Urban Body Jewelry, n.d.
  3. The Association of Professional Piercers” AAP, n.d.
  4. Piercings” Better Health Channel, n.d.
  5. Policy on Intraoral/Perioral Piercing and Oral Jewelry /Accessories” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, 2021
  6. Oral Piercing/Jewelry” American Dental Association, n.d.
  7. Oral Piercings” American Dental Association, n.d.
  8. Piercings: How to prevent complications” Mayo Clinic, 26 Feb. 2022
  9. How to treat a piercing site infection” Mayo Clinic, 29 Jan. 2021
  10.  
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