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Oral Piercings

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.


An oral piercing

is a hole made in the lip, tongue, or cheek so jewelry can be added. Jewelry includes a stud, ring, or barbell. More than one piercing can be made in a single area. The tongue is the most common location for an oral piercing. Oral piercings are considered a form of body art and personal expression.

How oral piercing is done:

  • Tongue piercing can be done in 2 ways. The most common is to pierce the tongue from top to bottom. A less common type is from one side of the tongue to the other. This type can cause heavy bleeding and is not usually done. A barbell is commonly used for this type of piercing. The bar goes through the tongue and is secured with a metal ball at the top and the bottom.
  • Lip piercing is most commonly done in the corners, but any part of the lip can be pierced. A stud, ring, or barbell can be used for this type of piercing.
  • Cheek piercing is usually done where the dimples of the cheek form. A needle is pushed through the cheek to make the piercing. Studs are most commonly used for cheek piercings.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives, itching, and swelling.
  • You have trouble breathing from swelling in your mouth or throat.
  • You swallowed or inhaled any part of your jewelry.
  • Your jewelry is pulled out by accident and the area around the piercing is damaged.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have any signs of an infection.
  • You see a scar or thickening of skin start to form near the piercing site.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Risks of oral piercings:

  • Chipped or broken teeth, especially from tongue piercings
  • Torn or ripped skin or tissue from jewelry being pulled out by force
  • Jewelry that gets embedded (stuck) in the skin and has to be removed by surgery
  • Swallowed jewelry
  • Drooling, or having more saliva than usual
  • Problems speaking, chewing, breathing, or swallowing
  • Scars called keloids that need to be removed
  • An allergic reaction to the metal in the jewelry
  • An infection that leads to a serious infection in your heart or brain

What you need to know about oral piercing safety:

  • Make sure the facility is clean before you get an oral piercing. Watch the person who will do your piercing. Make sure he or she uses an antibacterial soap to wash his or her hands before doing all piercings. A new pair of medical gloves need to be used for each new person who will get a piercing. The instruments need to be sterilized or thrown away after each use.
  • Choose the right jewelry for you. Choose stainless steel or gold to help prevent an allergic reaction. Nickel tends to cause an allergic reaction and should be avoided. Only use new jewelry. Do not use jewelry someone else already wore. The jewelry also needs to be the right size for you. It may damage or stretch your skin if it is too small or too big. Ask if the jewelry will be easy to remove quickly if you have an injury. You may also need to remove it before an x-ray or MRI and then put it back in.
  • Clean the area around your piercing as directed. Use a mouth rinse that does not contain alcohol. Brush your teeth 2 times each day. Floss after you brush to remove anything between your teeth that can get into your piercing and cause an infection.
  • Clean the jewelry as directed. You may be directed to brush the jewelry with your toothbrush each time you brush your teeth. Your jewelry should come with care instructions. It is important to follow the instructions to prevent an infection.
  • Check the area around your piercing for signs of infection. Pain and fever are signs of infection. Look for skin that is red, swollen, or has changed color. Also look for bleeding or foul-smelling discharge. Your skin also may be tender to the touch. Check the area every day for signs of infection.
  • Remove the jewelry as directed. You may need to remove the jewelry before you eat and sleep. You may be given a plug to place in the hole until you can put the jewelry back in. Also remove the jewelry before you play sports. Some jewelry may be ripped out during sports. You are also at a higher risk for clicking the jewelry against your teeth. The biggest risk is contact sports, such as football.
  • Get dental checkups as directed. Your dentist can check your teeth for problems caused by the jewelry. Examples include chips, cracks, or breaks in teeth, gum recession, tissue damage, and infections. Have your teeth examined and professionally cleaned 2 times each year, or as directed.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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