Don’t call it a comeback. With the embrace of trends an style from decades past, tongue piercings are reemerging as part of the cultural zeitgeist, among other nostalgic 1990s and Y2K body jewelry like belly button and nipple piercings. Sure, tongue jewelry isn’t exactly seen on every red carpet or downtown street these days, but oral piercings are officially cool again, so if you’re considering getting one, you’ll want to know all of the details before (literally) staring down the needle.
Tongue piercings had a major moment in pop culture in the ‘90s and 2000s, with Mel B (aka Sporty Spice) and Drew Barrymore among those most recognized for flaunting them, but fell in popularity some time following 2010. In more recent years, celebs such as Cardi B and Willow Smith have shown off their tongue piercings, and mouth jewelry, in all its forms, is rising in popularity. On TikTok, the #tonguepiercing hashtag has over 870 million views, which may be less than some of its other piercing counterparts, but it’s definitely not a blip or fleeting trend.
If you are thinking about getting a needle stuck through your tongue for a pretty mouth piercing, NYLON spoke with Brit Shostak, a professional piercer at Adorn in Portland, Oregon, to get all the information you need to know before you have one done. Below, read all about how long tongue piercings take to heal, the types of tongue piercings that are safe to get, how much they cost, how to take care of them, and (of course) how much they hurt.
Types Of Tongue Piercings
There are two main types of tongue piercings that are considered safe to perform. “One is a piercing vertically down the center of your tongue, which is likely the most common one anyone has seen,” Shostak tells NYLON. “If you’re lucky and have proper anatomy, some people can even get two of them in that placement, one behind the other.”
The other safe type of tongue piercing is one that includes placements on either side of the center, also pierced vertically. “This second one is far less common due to the anatomy needed to perform the piercing being far more unique,” Shostak says.
Relatedly — though not a piercing of the actual tongue, per se — a tongue web piercing is also an option. If you have the anatomy to support it (many people’s tongues will be too short or thin to allow for one), a web piercing goes through your tongue frenulum, or the webbing beneath your tongue that connects it to the bottom on your mouth.
If you are researching placements, you might also come across one called a “snake eyes” tongue piercing, but Shostak says you should steer clear of this one. Any piercing that is done horizontally through the tongue is not recommended. “I’m not sure what point a few years ago people started to get bored with successful piercing placements and started requesting these ‘snake eyes’ piercings, but boy ... are they not a great idea,” Shostak says. “Your tongue is a muscle and needs to move to do its job, [so] putting a barbell straight through it horizontally like that is asking for trouble. Horizontal piercings also sit directly in your bite line, which poses a ton of risks to your teeth.”
Of course, Shostak emphasizes, bodily autonomy is important. However, she along with lots of other piercers don’t consider a snake eyes tongue piercing safe to perform. “Grown adults can do what they please, but it will likely be hard to find a knowledgeable and quality piercer to perform those snake eyes,” she continues. “We are practitioners and we are here to help our clients’ dreams come true, but we are professionals who have to sleep at night knowing our impact to our community is one that is both sparkly and fun, but also safe.”
Who Can Get A Tongue Piercing?
As with any piercing, tongue piercings simply won’t work safely with some anatomy. “For instance, if you have really tight webbing under your tongue or are tongue tied, your piercer may not be able to perform the piercing,” Shostak says. “Most of us hold this career because we really like our jobs and want to help our clients feel at home in their bodies with the addition of a piercing. That being said, if a piercer says the piercing cannot safely be done or recommends a more suitable placement for your anatomy, know that it’s 100% for your best interest.”
Another thing to keep in mind is proper, safe fitting and placement, which will differ person to person both in terms of anatomy and lifestyle. “No matter the piercing, anything inside your mouth can cause damage to your teeth, gums, enamel, you name it,” Shostak says. “Properly fitted jewelry and accurately placed piercings by professionals can minimize some of that, but at the end of the day, wearing jewelry for long periods of time in the oral cavity has risks.”
Shostak likens the risk to going outside without wearing sunscreen: You’re not for certain going to get skin cancer, and piercing your tongue won’t for certain cause a badly chipped or broken tooth, but both outcomes are possible. “Realistically, talking one on one with your piercer — and if you’re really worried, your dentist — can help you make an informed decision on the risk you [want to] take,” she says. “If you wear braces, night guards, retainers, or Invisalign, it’s probably best to consult your dentist before making your appointment and bringing those things in with you if they give you the OK.”
How Much Do Tongue Piercings Cost?
On average, tongue piercings cost around $85 for a classic style barbell with balls. A combination of the jewelry cost and service fee, the price tag will increase depending on what options you choose beyond the basics. “A good quality barbell starts somewhere in the ballpark of $40 and goes up from there, depending on the addition of gems or using a precious metal like gold,” Shostak says. “Piercing service fees are in addition of the jewelry you select and run anywhere from $45 and up, as well.” There are a ton of different gem and jewel styles to choose from: hearts, smiley faces, dice, spiders, and so on.
Additionally, make sure you opt for high-quality metals to combat the risk of infection. “You’re wearing your jewelry 24/7 until you’re well healed and likely still wearing it 24/7 after, so you want the jewelry used to be implant-grade titanium or gold and internally threaded,” Shostak says. “You wouldn’t [wear] the cheapest coat to climb Mount Everest, and you shouldn’t skip corners on something that’s going to be in your body a long time.”
Do Tongue Piercings Hurt?
The quick answer is, yes. Any and every piercing will hurt in some sense, but the level of pain will differ person to person. On the piercing pain spectrum, tongue piercings are generally considered pretty middle of the road. “Pain is subjective, and I’ve had clients laugh, cry, sit like a rock, and any other response on the human spectrum you can think [of],” Shostak says. “You only have one tongue, so it’s hard to rate it against other piercing — more than an earlobe, less than a nipple. I would say it’s not much worse than when you bite your tongue badly, which is something most of us can kind of relate to.”
If you are particularly worried about the pain, it’s helpful to remember that the sensation is temporary. “A good piercer can help guide you through the process, ease your nerves, and help make something scary much more pleasant,” Shostak says. “Ask your friends what piercers they’ve felt comfortable with [and] use the safepiercing.org locater to find piercers near you.”
How Long Does A Tongue Piercing Take To Heal?
Tongue piercings take about two to three months to fully heal, according to Shostak. “Your first couple days are going to be the most uncomfortable,” she says. “Your piercer will be using a longer length barbell than what you will wear long-term — and for good reason. Swelling associated with tongue piercings can get pretty wild. Drinking lots of cool water will help with some of that.”
“It’s going to feel strange to talk and eat, but go slow and act natural,” Shostak says. “The good news is the swelling goes down fairly quickly, typically [within] a couple weeks. Once the swelling does go down, it’s super important to return to your piercer to have a new shortened barbell installed for the remainder of your piercing’s time with you.”
How To Take Care Of A Tongue Piercing
Though you’ll likely be dealing with swelling and discomfort for a bit, the good news is that the aftercare for a tongue piercing is pretty straightforward. “Taking care of a tongue piercing is really easy for the most part, as we’re all pretty used to taking care of oral health at least once a day to brush our teeth,” Shostak says. “Brush your teeth daily and make sure to brush the barbell as well, being very gentle for the first few weeks while tender.”
Other than that, Shostak says to keep some mouthwash stocked for the next few months and do your best to avoid anything that adds any extra bacteria to your mouth while it heals. “For the first two months, we suggest that you mouthwash at least once a day (preferably at night) and rinse with fresh water after eating, drinking, or smoking,” the piercer says. “Smoking is a vasoconstrictor, so laying off for the first few months of healing can be helpful.”
That goes for kissing and oral sex, too. “Your mouth is a delicately balanced ecosystem of your own bacteria, so we also suggest not mixing other people’s bodily fluids into that for the initial two months, as well,” says Shostak. Don’t count on much mouth action until at least a month after your shorter jewelry is put in.
All in all, a tongue piercing, though often considered one of the edgier piercings you can get, doesn’t actually differ that much from others. As long as you do your research beforehand to know what you’re in for, go to a reputable piercing studio, and follow all of your piercer’s care instructions, you’ll be walking around with some cool mouth jewelry à la Scary Spice no problem. If this didn’t answer all of your burning questions, definitely reach out to a professional in your area.