Tongue piercings are very popular piercings – One of our most popular oral piercings aside from philtrum piercings! In today’s blog I will give an overview of the tongue piercing, the anatomy of the tongue, the anatomical limitations of this piercing and some of the red flag tongue piercing options which should absolutely be avoided.
The tongue is an incredibly mobile and active collection of muscles. There are a few major parts to note that are important to piercing.
- The Two Major Muscle Groupings
All the muscles of the tongue are paired structures, split in the middle by the lingual septum. The intrinsic muscles are responsible for changing the shape of the tongue and controlling its movement. Working together, the longitudinal, transverse and vertical intrinsic muscles control the movement of your tongue. They can do this by working in isolation, or by working together depending on the motion required. These muscles should not be impeded by a piercing, or there can be serious consequences for the mobility of your tongue and your ability to eat and speak. We will get to that later…
- The Median Lingual Septum
The Lingual Septum is the thin, fibrous membrane that separates the paired muscles either side. Although this is an internal structure, you can locate it by looking out for the longitudinal midline groove that runs down the middle of your tongue. A traditional tongue piercing sits somewhere along this midline groove, and passes through the lingual septum. Like with a nasal septum, piercing through the thinnest section of membrane makes your tongue piercing much easier to heal and reduces your risk of problems. The existence of this lingual septum is what makes traditional center-line tongue piercings so safe.
- Major Blood Vessels
The major blood vessel feeding the tongue is called the Lingual Artery. Because the tongue is such a thirsty and active muscle grouping, the lingual artery is large and branches out into lots of smaller vessels which make sure the tongue is always well fed with oxygen. The most important branch of the lingual artery is the Deep Lingual Branch. This is the largest branch of the lingual artery, and passes through the base of the body of the tongue. If you lift your tongue, you may be able to see it sitting just behind your lingual frenulum (where a tongue web piercing would go). Sometimes you will have one central branch, however some people have two either side. Some people have two that cross over in the middle. This is all really important information that a piercer should be looking for before they pierce your tongue. If we cannot see it, or it crosses over itself base of the tongue, we will normally discourage you from getting this piercing. The Lingual Artery feeds directly from the Carotid Artery – That’s a direct bloodflow from your heart. This is a serious business!
The Healing Process
Tongue piercings are incredibly low-maintenance and heal very quickly. Here you can find an overview of their aftercare.
You want to clean your tongue piercing a maximum of 5 times a day with an alcohol-free mouthwash for the first 4 weeks. These 5 times are generally after brushing your teeth in the morning and evening, and after your three main meals. If you need to snack, smoke, or have sexual contact using your mouth (including kissing!) try and group those in with these 5 mouthwashes, however if you need to do them at other times of the day we recommend simply rinsing your mouth out with water afterwards.
Aside from this cleaning, we recommend leaving your new piercing alone entirely! No touching or fiddling, or fidgeting with your jewellery. Don’t get in the habit of playing with it! It’s best to avoid super spicy or hot foods for the first 4 weeks, but aside from this you are welcome to eat whatever you find appetising and is most comfortable for you.
Downsizing is the most important part of maintaining your oral health. After your swelling goes down, you need a shorter bar installing to avoid harming your mouth. This is usually after the first 7-10 days. After this downsize, you may need another at the 3 month mark so do keep in touch with your piercer. If you do nothing else with your tongue piercing, get it downsized!
Types of Tongue Piercing
- The Traditional Tongue Piercing
The traditional tongue piercing is the classic tongue piercing everybody thinks about when the words ‘tongue piercing’ are mentioned. It’s placed along the midline of the tongue, behind the apex or ‘tip’ of the tongue. The most important part of this placement is that it should not be so close to the tip of the tongue that it risks coming in contact with your teeth, or the gum-line on the back of your teeth. On the other hand, it should not be so far back that it irritates the lingual frenulum or digs into the bottom of the tongue. You can have one midline tongue piercing, or multiple one behind the other depending on your anatomy.
These tongue piercings are relatively simple to have and heal – You are fully healed within 8 weeks!
- Paired Vertical Tongue Piercings
The second most popular type of tongue piercing are the paired vertical tongue piercings. Otherwise known as ‘venom’ piercings, these are sets of two tongue piercings that sit either side of the midline of the tongue. These are super anatomy dependent and are much more complex piercings to get than the standard, so pick your piercer very carefully. Paired tongue piercings take slightly longer to fully heal as they do pass through the actual muscles of the tongue as opposed to just the lingual septum. You are fully healed within 12 weeks, which is still relatively quick for the human body! Paired tongue piercings are the best way to get the look of the piercings mentioned below in a safe way.
- Unsafe Tongue Piercings
For some reason, tongues seem to be the current place to get unsafe piercings. There are two major styles of tongue piercing to avoid, and they will be discussed below. Please bear in mind that some of the photos below may be graphic, but it is important to know how seriously dangerous these piercings can be and appreciate the immense damage they can cause to your body.
As discussed above, tongue piercings are no joke. The tongue is highly innervated and has large blood supplies to it which means any issue can soon become medically critical. So why are some piercers still offering these two styles of piercing?
Snake Eye Piercings
Snake eye piercings are piercings that pass horizontally through the apex, or tip of the tongue. They either use a straight or curved barbell. Neither style of jewellery makes this a safe, sane or sensible piercing. As previously discussed, the tongue is made of paired symmetrical muscles that need to be able to work independently in order for you to have full movement of your tongue.
A piercing passing through both sides of your tongue horizontally binds these two muscle groupings together and can cause serious damage. Every time you eat, move your tongue or speak, these two muscle groups are fighting against and pulling on your jewellery. This means it is only a matter of time before the jewellery is rejected, causing permanent splitting and scarring of the tissue.
The other major issue with Snake Eye piercings is that the tip of your tongue is constantly touching your teeth or gums. Pay attention to wear your tongue is sat at rest – it is tucked up behind your front teeth. Try talking for a second – the tip of your tongue flicks against the back of your teeth to form the ‘dental’ and ‘interdental’ phonetic sounds. Imagine having a piece of jewellery in that part of your tongue! It spells disaster for the health of your teeth and gums. Gum recession and tooth loss are irreparable so keep this in mind before choosing to have this unsafe piercing.
Surface Tongue Piercings
Surface tongue piercings, or tongue ‘scoop’ piercings, are just as bad as they sound. These are piercings that pass horizontally through the surface of the tongue in the same way as a surface tragus or other surface piercing. The main issues with tongue scoop piercings are the same as with snake-eyes. Rejection, splitting, and scarring.
Surface piercings can be successful in areas of low movement if you understand that the definition of a ‘successful’ surface piercing is 6-12 months. The tongue is not a low moment area. It is one of the most motile parts of your body. This, along with the binding of two muscle groups together, means that rejection is guaranteed in as little as a week.
The body of the tongue is full of nerves – that is what allows you to control your tongue alongside tasting food. Surface tongue piercings risk severing these nerves, leaving you with loss of sensation at best, and paralysis at worst. It is simply not worth the risk.
It is not often we take such a strong stance on ‘good vs bad’ piercers. We would like to believe that all piercers are working for the common good of their clients, however in this case we take a very black-and-white stance. There is no such thing as a good piercer who offers these two types of tongue piercing. If your piercer offers these piercings, they are neither good piercers, nor safe piercers, nor do they have your safety and quality of life in mind.
So there you have it! A good overview of tongue piercings. We love them here at Rogue, and are proud to offer them in a safe and skilled way.
See you next week for another piercings 101!