Identify and Treat a Tongue Piercing Infection
Infection occurs when bacteria become trapped inside the piercing. Tongue piercings — especially new ones — are more prone to…
How infections develop
Infection occurs when bacteria become trapped inside the piercing. Tongue piercings — especially new ones — are more prone to infections than other piercings because of all the bacteria in your mouth.
Much of the bacteria is introduced by eating and drinking. French kissing, performing oral sex, and engaging in other sexual activity can also transfer bacteria.
Keep reading to learn how to identify an infection, ease your symptoms, and prevent further complications.
If the piercing is new, irritation is normal.
During the first two weeks, you may experience:
- minor swelling
- slight throbbing
- mild heat or warmth
- clear or white discharge
Redness or swelling that extends beyond the piercing site may be a sign of infection.
Other early signs of infection include:
- uncomfortable swelling
- persistent warmth
- severe pain
- excessive bleeding
- pus or yellow discharge
- bump at the front or back of the piercing
Mild infections can typically be treated at home. But if your symptoms are severe — or if this is your first time dealing with an infection — you should see your piercer right away.
Moving the jewelry around can increase swelling and irritation, as well as introduce new bacteria into the holes.
The only time you should touch it is during cleansing.
It may also be tempting to take the jewelry out, but this can actually do more harm than good.
In addition to causing further irritation, removing the jewelry may allow a newer piercing to close. This can trap bacteria and allow the infection to spread beyond the piercing site.
Regular cleansing is the best way to flush out bacteria and prevent further irritation. Morning and night cleanings are ideal. You may also consider rinsing with a saline solution after every meal.
With a premade saline solution
A pre-made saline solution is the easiest and most effective way to clean any piercing. You can buy these over the counter (OTC) at your piercer’s shop or local pharmacy.
To clean your piercing:
- Soak a clean cloth or sturdy paper towel with the solution. Don’t use cotton balls, tissues, or thin towels — these can get caught in the jewelry and irritate your piercing.
- Gently wipe the cloth or towel around each side of the jewelry. Don’t scrub or prod, as this will cause irritation.
- Repeat this process as many times as needed. There shouldn’t be any “crust” left on the jewelry or around the hole.
With a DIY sea salt solution
Some people prefer to make their own saline solution instead of purchasing something OTC.
To make a sea salt solution:
- Combine 1 teaspoon of sea salt with 8 ounces of warm water.
- Stir until the salt completely dissolves.
- When it’s ready, follow the same steps for cleansing with premade saline.
Can you use mouthwash?
Alcohol-free mouthwashes, such as Biotene, are safe to use. However, they shouldn’t replace your saline cleansing routine.
You can use mouthwash to rinse after a meal and as part of your normal oral care routine. Follow all package directions and avoid swallowing.
3. Suck on ice or apply a cold compress | Cold compress
Cold compresses can help reduce pain and swelling. The numbing effects may be preferable to warm compresses, especially if you’re in a lot of pain.
You can suck on ice cubes for a few minutes at a time to help alleviate symptoms. Repeat as often as you’d like.
If ice cubes aren’t your thing, you can use a bag of frozen vegetables or soft ice pack to find relief.
To use a cold compress:
- Wrap the compress in either a thin towel or sturdy paper towel.
- Gently apply to the affected area for up to five minutes at a time.
- Repeat twice daily.
4. Apply a warm compress | Warm compress
A warm compress can also minimize overall swelling and irritation.
You may not want to use a warm compress if you’re already experiencing uncomfortable warmth at the piercing site. In this case, start with a cold compress and switch to a warm compress as needed.
You can make your own warm compress by sticking a damp towel or other cloth-based item in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time.
Some store-bought compresses contain herbs or rice grains to help seal in warmth and offer slight pressure.
You can make these modifications to your homemade compress, too. Just make sure your cloth can be sealed or folded so that none of the added ingredients can fall out.
To use a warm compress:
- Place a damp cloth, sock, or other homemade compress in the microwave for 30 seconds. Repeat until it’s comfortably warm to the touch.
- If you have an OTC heat compress, microwave or heat as directed on the product packaging.
- Apply the compress to the affected area for up to 10 minutes at a time, up to twice per day.
First, do a patch test to ensure you’re not allergic to chamomile. To do this:
- Steep a chamomile tea bag in warm water for two to three minutes.
- Apply the tea bag to the inside of your elbow.
- Leave on for up to three minutes, and then remove. Allow your skin to dry without rinsing.
- Wait 24 hours. If you don’t experience any redness or other signs of irritation, it may be safe to apply a chamomile compress to your piercing.
To use a chamomile compress:
- Steep two chamomile tea bags in freshly boiled water for five minutes.
- Remove the tea bags and allow them to cool for about 30 seconds. The bags should be warm to the touch.
- Wrap each tea bag in a cloth or paper towel. This will help prevent the strings from getting caught on your jewelry.
- Apply a tea bag to each side of the hole for up to 10 minutes.
- Refresh the tea bags with warm water as needed.
- After 10 minutes, rinse the affected area with warm water and gently pat dry with a clean paper towel.
- Repeat this process daily.
OTC antibiotics have long been used to treat infections. However, these aren’t useful — and can even be dangerous — for piercings.
Topical creams and ointments can trap bacteria inside the piercing and make things worse. Plus, they aren’t intended to be used inside your mouth.
Oral cleansers that contain hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and other antibacterial ingredients can also harm healthy skin cells and slow down the healing process.
You’re better off sticking with your cleansing and compress routine. See your piercer if you don’t see improvement within a day or two.
When it comes to tongue piercings, you have to do more than just clean the piercing site. You have to keep the rest of your mouth clean, too.
This can help prevent the bacteria in your mouth from spreading to and getting trapped inside your piercing.
Brushing twice a day is just as important as flossing. You may also consider brushing midday to help prevent bacteria buildup. Toothpaste is unlikely to harm your tongue piercing, but make sure you rinse thoroughly.
If you aren’t already using a mouthwash, there’s no need to start now.
If you do use mouthwash, follow the product directions as you usually would. Avoid alcohol-based rinses.
What you eat matters, especially when you have a wound — in this case, an infected piercing — in your mouth.
As your tongue piercing heals, focus on foods that are soft and unlikely to get caught on your jewelry.
- ice cream
- mashed potatoes
Anything chewy may require an additional salt rinse after eating. Water should be your drink of choice at this time.
Extremely crunchy foods, such as chips, can cause additional pain and irritation. You should also avoid peppers, chili powder, and other spices.
Alcohol can act as a blood thinner, as well as damage the cells around the piercing. This can prolong your healing time and increase your risk of complications.
Coffee may also have blood-thinning effects. If you don’t want to take a temporary hiatus, cut back on your usual intake until the infection clears.
Cleaning your piercing is important, but it’s just one part of a larger care plan.
Learning to evaluate everything that may come into contact with your tongue — and adjusting accordingly — can help you reduce the amount of bacteria, debris, and dirt that get into the piercing.
Unless your piercer says otherwise, maintain your daily cleansing and soaking routine. Keep this up until all symptoms subside and until your tongue piercing completely heals.
See your piercer if your symptoms don’t improve within two to three days, or if they worsen. They can take a look at the piercing and make specific recommendations for cleaning and care.
How long does it take to heal?
A tongue piercing officially takes between six and eight weeks to completely heal. However, your individual healing process depends entirely on how you care for your new piercing.
Read on to find out what symptoms are typical during this time, how your aftercare may vary from week to week, when you can safely change your jewelry, and more.
Proper aftercare techniques are crucial to the outcome of your tongue piercing. Much of this depends on where your tongue piercing is placed, as well as how many new piercings you have.
Although the bulk of your aftercare takes place within the first couple of weeks, you’ll need to stay on top of daily cleanings until the piercing has completely healed. You should still clean your piercing once it’s healed, but you’ll have more flexibility in how often you do so.
Days 1 through 4
A little bit of swelling is normal — after all, your tongue now has a hole in it. Still, the amount of swelling shouldn’t keep you from drinking water or talking.
You’ll need to be careful with the types of foods that you eat, as these can get stuck around the jewelry and make you uncomfortable. Soft, bland foods — like applesauce and yogurt — are preferred.
French kissing and oral sex are off-limits during this time.
You can do a salt rinse to help minimize any pain and swelling. Ready-made rinses may be available for purchase from your piercer, or you can make your own at home. Use it several times per day at first to encourage the healing process.
Days 5 and 6
Pain and swelling should start to subside by the end of the first week. You may find it easier to eat, but you should still stick with soft foods at this point.
Keep up with your salt rinses, and avoid extensive physical contact with others.
Days 7 through 9
Overall pain and swelling should be done by this point. You may start eating harder, crunchier foods, but do so with care. If any discomfort develops, stick with soft foods for a bit longer.
Avoid hot beverages, as these can encourage further swelling.
If possible, rinse your mouth out with salt water after eating and drinking. This can help prevent food and other irritants from getting stuck around the jewelry.
Days 10 through 41
By day 10, your piercing may look like it’s good to go — but appearances aren’t everything. The hole won’t be completely healed for several more weeks.
You can eat almost anything you’d like at this point. But take care with spices, as these can irritate the wound.
You can cut down to twice-daily salt rinses — preferably morning and night — after you brush your teeth.
Days 42 through 56
This is considered the final stretch in your tongue piercing healing process. Continue with your salt rinses, and make sure you’re brushing and flossing.
You shouldn’t have any pain or swelling at this stage, but you might find that certain foods irritate your tongue. Any symptoms beyond this may be a sign of infection or a poor piercing job.
Once your piercer give you the OK, you can resume your normal habits. This includes eating what you want, getting intimate, and switching out your jewelry.
You’ll still need to take precautions after the eight-week healing period, though. This ensures the health of your piercing over the long term.
While the initial piece of jewelry used for your piercing may not be your favorite, it’s important to make sure it stays put over the next eight weeks.
Removing the stud too soon can increase your risk of tears and infections. The hole may also close up if you remove the jewelry too soon.
Once the time comes to remove the jewelry used for the piercing, it’s best to see your piercer. They can ensure a safe removal process and show you how to correctly put new jewelry in.
For your tongue piercing to properly heal, it’s imperative that you follow some basic guidelines.
Make sure that you do:
- brush your teeth twice per day
- floss daily
- use a soft-bristle toothbrush for cleanings
- choose a mouthwash that’s alcohol-free
- look for signs of complications — especially an infection
On the flip side, don’t:
- use tongue scrapers
- play with your jewelry
- engage in french kissing or oral sex until the piercing has completely healed
- play contact sports with your jewelry in your tongue
- smoke or drink alcohol during the healing process
Once your tongue piercing has healed, you’re not completely off the hook in terms of cleaning and hygiene. You can eliminate salt rinses, but be sure to stay on top of your oral health to prevent any problems.
You’ll also want to ensure that any jewelry you select for your tongue piercing is of good quality. Look for jewelry made with steel, titanium, or 14-karat gold. Less desirable metals are more likely to cause an allergic reaction or lead to infection.
Be sure to keep up with your regular dental checkups over the lifetime of your piercing. Tongue piercings can increase your long-term risk of cuts, tooth trauma, and gum recession. Your dentist can monitor for changes and help ensure that your piercing doesn’t cause such damages.
Although tongue piercings are quick to heal compared to other piercings, they’re extremely vulnerable to infections. Poor-quality jewelry, messing with the piercing, and improper cleaning techniques all increase your risk.
See your doctor if you experience:
- severe pain
- severe swelling
- redness around the piercing site
- discharge from the piercing site
- unusual odors
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help treat the infection and prevent its spread.
You shouldn’t remove the jewelry during this time. Doing so will trap infectious bacteria inside your tongue and may lead to further complications.
If you decide that you want to let the piercing close up — or you just want to switch the jewelry — you should wait until the infection has completely cleared.
Any new piercing can raise lots of questions. Those done on your tongue are especially delicate. Feel free to reach out to your piercer if you have any questions concerning the results, aftercare, and healing time.
If you think you’ve developed an infection, your piercer isn’t the right source for treatment. You’ll need to call your doctor if you see signs of an infection or you’re experiencing severe discomfort.
What Is Piercing Rejection?
When you get a new piercing, you’re welcoming a foreign object into your body. Sometimes, your body isn’t as welcoming as you are, and it wants to push the foreign object out.
In the early stages of rejection, your piercing will begin to migrate toward the surface of your skin. Eventually, your body will push the piercing to the surface, and your skin will crack open to let it out.
Piercing rejection isn’t nearly as common as some other piercing complications, like infections, keloids, and dermatitis. When rejection does happen, it’s usually in a flat area of the body. Rejection is more common in the following types of piercings:
- belly button
- surface piercings
Read on to learn about the symptoms of piercing rejection and how you can treat it.
Your body is all about self-defense. It spends every minute of the day protecting you from an incalculable number of hazards: airborne diseases, bacteria on your skin, fungi, germs, and more.
When you injure yourself, your body’s immune system kicks into gear, helping you heal as quickly as possible.
The symptoms of piercing rejection are actually signs that your body is working to protect itself from what it perceives to be a threatening invader: your jewelry.
If your body is rejecting a piercing, you may experience the following symptoms:
- The jewelry has noticeably moved from its original place.
- The amount of tissue between the entrance and exit holes gets thinner (there should be at least a quarter inch of tissue between holes).
- The entrance and exit holes increase in size.
- The jewelry starts to hang or droop differently.
- The skin between the entrance and exit holes is:
- red or inflamed
- calloused-looking or unusually hard
- nearly transparent (you might see the jewelry through your skin)
Rejection usually happens in the weeks and months following a new piercing, but it can also happen years, even decades, later.
If you bump your old piercing in an odd way or have an infection that kicks your immune system into overdrive, you might suddenly see signs of migration and rejection.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body and the only one that comes into contact with the outside world. It holds in all your bodily fluids and keeps out harmful microbes that cause infections.
When your skin is injured, it goes through a complex process of healing that begins with inflammation and ends with the formation of scar tissue.
Your body will only build up scar tissue around a piece of jewelry if that process is easier than pushing out the jewelry entirely. In the case of surface piercings, the body is often tempted to push out the jewelry rather than wall it off with scar tissue.
Part of wound healing involves contraction, which means your skin is pulling itself back together. This is what allows holes to close up when jewelry is removed.
There’s no specific cause that leads to piercing rejection. It happens due to a combination of factors, including:
- Genetics. Some people heal differently than others.
- The skin surface. Flat surfaces are more prone to rejection.
- The tautness of skin. Piercing into tight skin around the belly button or chest puts more pressure on the piercing to hold the skin together (like a staple).
- The size and shape of the jewelry. Ill-fitting jewelry is often the initial cause of migration.
- The material of the jewelry. Some materials, such as titanium, may be better for those with sensitive skin and can reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction or rejection. Your piercer can recommend the right jewelry for you and the location of your piercing.
- Weight changes. Pregnancy and obesity cause the skin to stretch, which may put pressure on the piercing.
- Physical or emotional stress. A healthy, strong immune system is important for the healing process — and too much stress can negatively affect it.
It can be frustrating when your body rejects a piercing, but there’s no danger other than scarring (unless there’s a severe infection). The best thing to do is prevent the jewelry from pushing itself through the skin’s surface.
If the jewelry cracks open your skin’s surface, it’ll cause more damage, which means more scar tissue. Excessive scar tissue at the piercing site makes re-piercing difficult.
Here are a few tips for dealing with piercing migration and rejection:
- Take out the jewelry if you see it migrating toward the surface.
- Try a new piece of jewelry in a different size, gauge, shape, or material.
- Speak with a qualified piercer for advice.
- Opt for a nonirritating plastic ring or bar.
- Try a larger piece of jewelry if your ring won’t lie flat or your barbell looks like it’s getting swallowed up.
- Wait about a year before re-piercing.
- Apply a topical vitamin E oil to reduce the appearance of scars.
The most important thing you can do before getting a new piercing is to research the best piercers in your area. If you’re getting a surface piercing, make sure to talk to the piercer about their experience. It’s a good idea to ask about rejection rates for the area you’d like to pierce.
Keep in mind that piercings may leave visible scars.
Here are a few tips to reduce the likelihood of rejection:
- Getting a larger gauge, or width, may reduce your chance of rejection.
- Speak with your piercer about the depth of the piercing and the best size for jewelry to wear while you’re healing.
- Follow all aftercare instructions. Keep the site very clean and soak it in a saltwater compress.
- Stay healthy, eat well, and avoid stress.
Piercings are a way to express yourself and adorn your body, but they do come with risks. Migration and rejection are some complications that can result from a new piercing.
If you suspect something is wrong, take out your jewelry and talk with your piercer. A new piece of jewelry is often enough to stop migration and prevent rejection.