What to Know About Smiley Piercings

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 25, 2022
5 min read

Oral piercings can look very cool, but are they safe? Smiley piercing is a kind of controversial piercing. Read on to learn about the smiley piercing process, jewelry, aftercare, and more.

A smiley piercing — or lip frenulum piercing — is an oral piercing where jewelry of your choice is inserted into your lip frenulum (labial frenum). The frenulum is the thin flap of skin that connects your lip to your gum. So, the piercing is visible only when you smile — which is why it’s called a smiley piercing.

While anyone can get a smiley piercing, you may want to avoid it if you have braces, dental sealants, a small frenulum, gum disease, tooth infection, or any other oral conditions.

Oral piercings aren’t very expensive, but they’re not recommended by medical and dental professionals because smiley piercing aftercare can be hard, and if not done properly, these piercings can open the door to many health risks.

Jewelry used for smiley piercing includes:

  • Bead ring — This is the most commonly used smiley piercing jewelry. It’s a circular ring, with a detachable bead at one end to hold it in place.
  • Barbell — It’s usually a horseshoe-shaped barbell with a bead on both ends to hold it in place.
  • Seamless ring — It’s just a plain ring, without any beads to keep it in place.

The material used for smiley piercing jewelry includes:

  • Stainless steel — Though mostly hypoallergenic, it may cause some irritation in some people.
  • Titanium — This material is best suited for people with sensitive skin.
  • Niobium — This is a noncorrosive, hypoallergenic material.
  • Gold — Only 14-karat white or yellow gold can be used for a lip frenulum piercing. Any jewelry of more than 18-karat gold will not stay intact, without any damage, for long. Avoid gold-plated jewelry as this could cause infections.

If you’ve decided to get a smiley piercing, here’s what to expect:

  • First, you’ll need to rinse your mouth with an antimicrobial mouthwash.
  • Once you’ve cleaned your mouth thoroughly, the piercer will gently pull back your upper lip to stretch out the frenulum.
  • After exposing the frenulum, the piercer will use a sterile needle to make the piercing. Ensure that they use a clean, unused needle to do your piercing.
  • Next, the piercer will thread the jewelry you’ve chosen through the hole made by the needle and screw it or lock it into place.

Being pricked by a needle is going to be painful, and the rule of thumb for piercing-related pain is that the fleshier the body part you choose to pierce, the less the piercing hurts. Unfortunately, your frenulum is quite a delicate piece of tissue, so it might hurt a little more than an earlobe piercing would. These piercings are done quickly, though, so it’ll likely hurt for only a few moments. Take deep breaths to relieve the pain.

A smiley piercing usually heals within 4 to 12 weeks if there are no complications like infection. Because of its sensitive location, proper aftercare and consistent cleaning are important for keeping your smiley piercing for a long time.

Here are some tips to look after your smiley piercing during the healing process:

  1. Brush your teeth and use a saline solution or table salt dissolved in water to clean your mouth twice a day. 
  2. Avoid strong kinds of toothpaste like mint-flavored ones. Instead, use plain or mild flavors like bubblegum.
  3. Always rinse your mouth after eating to prevent food residue from sticking to your new piercing; in case you are using a mouthwash, make sure it’s alcohol-free.
  4. Don’t talk too much in the first few days to avoid disturbing the piercing before it has healed fully.
  5. Don’t fiddle with or move the piercing with your tongue or fingers.
  6. Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol.
  7. Don’t eat any highly acidic foods — like tomatoes or oranges — or spicy foods.
  8. Avoid eating anything that’s too hard, crunchy, or chewy.
  9. Don’t chew gum, use straws, or put any other objects (e.g., harmonica) in your mouth that could displace or irritate the piercing.
  10. Avoid kissing because it can introduce bacteria to the open wound made by the piercing, thus causing an infection.
  11. Look for the signs of jewelry rejection or dislodgement and infection during the healing process. If you experience any warning signs like severe pain, unstoppable bleeding, swelling, fluid discharge, bad smell, unbearable itching, or increasing redness, consult a medical professional right away.

Once the piercing is completely healed, you can change the jewelry at regular intervals of around 3 months. Be sure to disinfect your hands and mouth before touching the piercing. 

If you change your mind about the piercing at any point, you can remove the jewelry after it’s fully healed. If it’s a fresh piercing, wait until it’s safe to remove the jewelry and continue cleaning the area until the hole is completely closed.

The main health risks of a smiley piercing include:

  • Rejection — Your body might not accept the piercing or react poorly to the jewelry material, causing irritation or a build-up of skin tissue to push the piercing out.
  • Infection — The piercing site may get infected by the bacteria in your mouth, preventing the piercing from healing well.
  • Gum damage — The piercing jewelry could rub against your soft gums and cause damage.
  • Tooth damage — The piercing jewelry could knock against your teeth, damaging the enamel and chipping or cracking the tooth in serious cases.
  • Accidental piercing ingestion — You could accidentally swallow and choke on the piercing jewelry if it comes loose.
  • Speech issues — Until you get used to it, you may have difficulty articulating clearly with the unfamiliar piercing. Pain and swelling could worsen your speech difficulties.
  • Severe blood loss — If pointy or with sharp edges, the piercing jewelry could puncture a blood vessel in the mouth (e.g., an artery that supplies blood to the tongue) and cause a dangerous amount of bleeding.
  • Blood-borne illnesses — The piercing can transmit certain infections like hepatitis (liver infection) and endocarditis (heart infection).

To avoid these problems, use a professional piercer with good credentials, knowledge, and hygiene. Be diligent with your smiley piercing aftercare protocol — if you feel that something’s wrong, don’t hesitate to seek medical assistance at once.