Infected Tongue Piercings: Symptoms & Treatment

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: October 22, 2020

Tongue piercing infections may not be the first thing you think about when deciding to get a tongue piercing, but they are a real risk. The thing to remember about infected tongue piercings is that they’re almost completely avoidable if you follow good aftercare and oral hygiene routines.

The good news is that once the piercing is fully healed, you don’t usually need to worry about infections anymore; you just have to get through that first couple of months to avoid the most serious complications of infection.


How Tongue Infections Develop

A tongue piercing infection is a buildup of harmful bacteria that has entered the piercing wound. These bacteria cause your body to react with a variety of symptoms, many of them unpleasant.

Infections are likely to occur when bacteria become trapped inside the piercing wound. Tongue piercings are much more prone to infections compared to other piercings because your mouth harbors so much bacteria.

There are several different reasons why harmful bacteria may take root in your tongue piercing:

Bad oral hygiene

Good dental health is important regardless of whether you have oral piercings. Still, it’s even more important when you have a tongue piercing, especially one that is in the healing process.

Brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash removes excess bacteria. Another part of preventing excess bacteria and inflammation in the mouth is to avoid overly sugary foods and drinks.

Poor health in general

You may not realize it, but the health of your mouth is tied to the health of all your body systems. If you are not taking care of yourself, your dental health will show it. So you should be making sure to eat healthily and get plenty of sleep.

A healthy body is more capable of preventing and fighting infections, including tongue piercing infections.

Unsanitary piercing conditions

Sometimes bacteria enter a piercing at the body piercing studio. This is becoming less common as studios continue to learn and implement best practices for sterilizing equipment and preventing infection.

A reputable and experienced piercer may charge a slightly higher tongue piercing price, but it will definitely be worth it in the long run.

Playing with your tongue jewelry

If you use unwashed hands to fiddle with your tongue jewelry, you’re depositing that bacteria right onto your piercing, and setting yourself up for a potential infection.

Engaging in oral sex before the piercing heals

Our bodies, just like our mouths, are host to many bacteria. Most of the time they are harmless, but when you have a tender new tongue piercing, what is usually normal, harmless bacteria can cause an infected wound.

Giving oral sex can introduce additional bacteria into the mouth and potentially lead to an infected tongue piercing. Don’t worry, you can get back to giving once the piercing is fully healed in a month or two.

Tongue Piercing Infection

Signs & Symptoms Of An Infection

Since any piercing is bound to be a bit tender at first, you may be uncertain whether your tongue piercing is infected. Here are the most common signs of infection.

Extra swelling

Yes, your tongue is going to be swollen. That’s normal. It’s even normal to have some difficulty eating and talking, but if your tongue is so swollen that you are having an especially hard time with eating or talking, it may be an infection.

Your tongue should NOT be so swollen that you have difficulty breathing. If that’s the case, get to a doctor immediately.

It’s also important to pay attention to how long your tongue is swollen for. Anything past the initial 7 to 10 days is a reason for concern and should be assessed.

Redness and tenderness

Watch out for redness and pain that lasts more than a week, and if you see red streaks going out from the piercing and down your tongue, go to a doctor right away because that’s a sign that not only do you have an infection; the infection is spreading.

If your piercing remains healthy, tenderness should gradually go away by the time your tongue piercing is healed.

Bleeding or discharge after the normal healing period

Your tongue may bleed a bit or discharge fluids while it heals. That’s no cause for alarm.

Yellow or green pus, however, is not a good sign at any time, and if you experience bleeding from your tongue piercing after the normal healing period is over, then an infection is likely present.

Discoloration

Absolutely go to a doctor for antibiotic treatment if your tongue changes color. That’s a sign of serious and advanced infection.

Infected Tongue Piercing

Treatment

If you catch an infection in the first stages, you can try to treat it at home. Just keep an eye on your symptoms to make sure they don’t get any worse.

For severe or long-lasting infections, you need to go to a doctor for antibiotic treatment. It will prevent more serious complications.

1. Don’t remove the jewelry or play with it

Don’t ever take out your tongue jewelry when you suspect infection. Keeping the jewelry in place actually allows the infection to discharge, which is necessary for clearing out the bacteria.

If you take out the jewelry, your piercing will grow back together rapidly and possibly seal in bacteria, spreading the infection. Tongue piercings can grow back together much more quickly than other piercings.

2. Clean well and often

Regularly cleaning the wound is by far the best was of flushing out any lingering bacteria and soothing the piercing site. While you should clean the piercing at least every morning and evening, you should ideally try to clean it after every mealtime too.

To clean an infected tongue piercing, use either a homemade salt water rinse, or buy a store-bought saline solution.

The best aftercare product I’ve personally used is the After Inked Piercing Aftercare Spray. Not only is it vegan-friendly, but it’s also completely alcohol and additive-free. The solution works well on all skin types including sensitive skin, and it comes in a generously-sized mist-spraying bottle for easy application. When using it from the very start of the healing process, the spray helps to decrease healing times and aims to eliminate any lingering pain or soreness.

If you’d prefer to make your own rinse, combine 1 teaspoon of sea salt with 8 ounces of warm water.

To clean the piercing, soak a clean cloth with the solution and gently wipe it around the jewelry, being sure to reach all sides. Finally, try to remove as much crust around the wound and jewelry as possible. Feel free to repeat this cleaning process as many times as needed.

Keep the rest of your mouth clean

When it comes to tongue piercings, you have to do more than just keeping the exact piercing site clean. You also need to actively try to keep your entire mouth as free from harmful bacteria as possible. You can do this by:

Flossing

Floss your teeth once a day to remove hard-to-reach bacteria from between your teeth. This bacteria can easily dislodge and move to your piercing wound.

Brushing

Brushing twice a day is vital to good oral hygiene, but when you’ve got an infection in your mouth, you should aim to brush at least once more per day, too. Toothpaste is also fine to use and shouldn’t negatively affect the piercing as long as you rinse well afterwards.

Rinsing

While alcohol-free mouthwash is fine to use while dealing with a tongue infection, a quick rinse with water is just as appropriate. All you’re wanting to do with rinsing is wash out any leftover food particles and bacteria that the previous steps either dislodged or missed.

Use a compress

While not an absolute necessity, applying a warm compress to the piercing can help with healing by reducing inflammation and irritation, which will help to decrease pain and swelling.

To make your own compress, put a clean, damp cloth in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time to ensure it doesn’t get too hot.

You can also buy pre-made compresses that contain herbal extracts and rice grains to trap warmth further reduce swelling.

If you wish, you can also add these items to your homemade compress. Just be sure to seal the cloth securely so the ingredients don’t fall out.

To use a compress:

  • If you’ve made a compress, put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Repeat until the compress is warm, but not hot.
  • If you bought a compress, heat it as directed on the product packaging.
  • Apply the compress to the piercing wound for 10 minutes at a time, twice per day if possible.

How To Prevent Tongue Piercing Infections In The Future

The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent tongue piercing infections in the future. Follow these tips to reduce your chance of infection.

  • Use a reputable piercer and make sure they use sterilized equipment
  • Only use steel, titanium, or gold jewelry while your piercing is healing; acrylic holds more bacteria
  • Follow your piercer’s aftercare instructions, including keeping your hands off the jewelry and keeping your mouth clean
  • Avoid hot beverages, alcohol, and any foods that may irritate the piercing until it’s healed
  • Rinse out your mouth after each time you eat, either with saline (salt water), or with plain water at the very minimum
  • Refrain from using, lip gloss, lipstick, and other lip products. If you’ve used any specific product while your tongue has been infected, you may wish to throw it away to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Summary

Tongue piercing infections are no fun to deal with. Do yourself a favor and keep your mouth clean to have the best chance of preventing any issues from developing. Also, be on the lookout for the most common signs of infection while the piercing heals.

If you do end up with an infected tongue piercing, keep the jewelry in and rinse with salt water solution, and make sure you get to a doctor if the infection gets worse.