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Tongue piercing is the practice of inserting jewelry through a hole in the tongue that was created with a needle. It is the most popular piercing site after the ear in Western countries.

What is tongue piercing?

Historically, tongue piercings have been performed in various Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs, and Mayas as an offering to the gods, but were also performed during religious ceremonies in other cultures like in certain Muslim denominations and certain East Asian cultures. Muslim Fakirs and Sufis from the Middle East, and East Asian Spirit Mediums often used tongue piercing as a proof of a spiritual trance state and a religious offering. The medicine men in some Australian Aborigine tribes used a pierced tongue to suck the evil spirit that caused illness out of their patients. In contrast to its use in modern Western societies, the tongue piercing in these cases was not ornamental, nor was a piece of jewelry or other foreign object inserted into the hole in the tongue for an extended amount of time.

In modern day tongue piercing usually a hole is pierced through the center of the tongue with a needle. In most cases a barbell shaped piece of jewelry is inserted into the hole and left there indefinitely. The barbell is usually made of surgical steel with steel balls at the end, but the end pieces can be of other material like glass or plastic. The entire piece of jewelry sometimes is made of solid gold, titanium or niobium instead of surgical steel. The hole is normally further in the back of the tongue on the top and pointing slightly forward towards the bottom, so that the jewelry top points backward in the mouth, away from teeth and towards the palate, where there is more room to accommodate the jewelry. Rings are very rarely used for tongue piercings.

Tongue piercings can also be done as a double piercing with each hole at the same distance from the tip of the tongue to either side. This double piercing is usually called “venom bite” and is reportedly more painful than

the more common single central tongue piercing. The venom bite piercing is also more difficult to place, not only because of the desired symmetry of the position of the hole, but also because the piercer needs to be careful to avoid the big blood vessels on the bottom of the tongue with this piercing position. Another form of double piercing, two holes in a line in the center of the tongue, are frequently called “Angel bite”. Another form of tongue piercing is the piercing and insertion of a barbell through the tongue’s frenulum, the connection of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth in the center of the tongue underneath it.

Why do people have their tongue pierced – tongue piercing pros?

People get their tongue pierced to make a fashion statement and also a statement about their individuality. Similar to tattoos, tongue piercings are often frowned upon by the so-called establishment and are associated with youth and sub-culture. People who have their tongue pierced often do this as a sign of rebellion against the establishment. Tongue piercings can also be used to show toughness by the wearer, as he or she was not afraid to get this body jewelry despite the fact that the piercing is done without anesthetic. The act of piercing can become something similar to an initiation rite, and can give a feeling of belonging to a group people who all have their tongue pierced. Peer pressure can also be a significant motivation in getting one’s tongue pierced.

Possible negative effects and complications of tongue piercing – tongue piercing cons?

Tongue piercings have a lot of side effects in the first few weeks after the piercing. The injury to the tongue will induce swelling, and the tongue can get up to twice its normal size. In addition to the pain of the actual piercing of the needle through the tongue, the injury itself can cause pain until the tongue is completely healed about 6-8 weeks later. While nerve damage to the tongue causing weakness, paralysis and loss of sensation has been reported only very rarely, it is easily possible to pierce one of the larger blood vessels in the tongue, in particular when a “venom bite” piercing is attempted. This can lead to prolonged bleeding and significant blood loss. The wound can become infected which can lead to serious consequences including blood poisoning and death from septic shock. Wound care for a tongue piercing involves rinsing the mouth with diluted mouthwash after every drink of meal, several times a day. Hydrogen peroxide and mouthwash solutions with high alcohol content can induce significant pain. Chewing or sucking on ice can help with the swelling. Removal of the piercing at this point in time will lead to a more or less immediate closure of the piercing. Once the piercing is completely healed, it can still close up completely, but might leave a permanent scar and will take a little longer.

The normal swelling of the tongue during the healing process can make speech and swallowing difficult, and most people need to stick to a soft diet during this time.

Once the piercing is completely healed there are still some negative effects that can be expected from a tongue piercing. The jewelry can induce tooth damage, in particular if the wearer plays with it by rubbing it between the teeth. In rare cases gum recession, and even damage to the jaw bone has been reported. Sometimes the jewelry still interferes with speech after the tongue has completely healed. If the jewelry comes loose in the mouth, it can cause more tooth damage, if the wearer accidentally bites down on it, and it can also create a choking hazard. Some work environments do not allow tongue piercings as part of their dress code. Barbell ends that are flat and the color of the surrounding tongue are available to conceal the piercing in these cases.