What to Know About Oral Piercing

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 24, 2023
4 min read

An oral (mouth) piercing is a small hole in your tongue, lip, cheek, or uvula (the tiny tissue at the back of your throat) so you can wear jewelry.

You can get a piercing on the inside of your mouth (intraoral) or the type that you can see outside of your mouth (perioral). Some types of oral piercings are:

  • Tongue piercing: A type of oral piercing that goes through the tongue
  • Lip piercing: A type of oral piercing that goes through the lip
  • Cheek piercing: A type of oral piercing that goes through the cheek
  • Frenum piercing: A type of oral piercing that goes through the tissue that connects the lips or tongue to the gums or floor of the mouth
  • Uvula piercing: A type of oral piercing that goes through the tissue that hangs at the back of the throat
  • Smiley piercing: A type of oral piercing that is placed horizontally through the upper lip, passing through the frenulum, which is the small fold of tissue that connects the upper lip to the gums

It's a way to express your style, but it can be dangerous. Your mouth is filled with bacteria that can lead to infection and swelling. A swollen tongue can make it hard for you to breathe. And in some people with heart disease, bacteria can lead to a condition that can damage your heart valves.

Tongue piercings also can put you at risk for bleeding and blood loss. You have a lot of blood vessels in the area.

The jewelry can cause issues as well. It can break off in your mouth and make you choke. You can chip your teeth on it while you eat, sleep, talk, or chew on it. If the break goes deep into your tooth, you can lose it or need a root canal to fix it.

Mouth and tongue piercings also may:

  • Make it hard to speak, chew, or swallow
  • Damage your tongue, gums, or fillings
  • Make you drool
  • Make it hard for your dentist to take an X-ray of your teeth
  • Lead to serious health problems, like gum disease, uncontrolled bleeding, long-term infection, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
  • Lead to an allergic reaction to the metal in the jewelry

Because of these risks, the American Dental Association warns against oral piercings. And you especially shouldn't get one if you have a job or do things that would make it more likely to cause you trouble.

People with certain conditions that might make it hard for the piercing to heal are particularly at risk for health problems. Those conditions include heart disease, diabetes, hemophilia, and autoimmune diseases.

If you've decided to get an oral piercing, make sure you're up to date on vaccines for hepatitis B and tetanus.

Pick a piercing shop that appears clean and well-run. Look for a piercer who has a license, which means they were specially trained. The piercer should wash their hands with germ-killing soap, wear fresh disposable gloves, and use sterilized tools or ones that are thrown away after one use.

You'll want to make sure that:

  • The piercer is happy to answer your questions.
  • The people who work in the shop have been vaccinated against hepatitis B. (It's fine to ask.)
  • The shop doesn't use a piercing gun.
  • The needle is new and has never been used.
  • The needle is placed in a sealed container after it's used.
  • Jewelry is made of surgical steel, solid gold, or platinum.

Once you leave the shop, you'll need to make sure your piercing heals and doesn't get infected. Healing usually takes 3 to 4 weeks. During that time, you should:

  • Rinse your tongue or lip piercing after every meal or snack and before bed. Use warm salt water or an antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Not kiss anyone while you heal (avoid contact with someone else's saliva).
  • Not share cups, plates, forks, knives, or spoons.
  • Eat small bites of healthy food.
  • Not eat spicy, salty, or acidic foods and drinks.
  • Not have hot drinks, like coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

While it heals, you should be able to remove the jewelry for short periods of time without the hole closing. If you get a tongue piercing, the piercer will start with a larger "barbell" to give your tongue room to heal as it swells. After the swelling goes down, dentists recommend you replace the large barbell with a smaller one that's less likely to bother your teeth.

After your tongue has healed, take the jewelry out every night and brush it the way you brush your teeth. You might want to take it out before you go to sleep or do anything active.

You can expect short-term symptoms like pain, swelling, and extra saliva.

Watch out for signs of infection such as:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Lots of bleeding
  • Discharge
  • A bad smell