Infected Tongue Piercings: Symptoms & Treatment
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 are almost completely avoidable if you follow good aftercare and oral hygiene routines.
However, if you don’t take care of your mouth and keep it clean, then tongue piercings are a really easy piercing to get infected. The conditions in your mouth make it prone to a buildup of bacteria, and that bacteria can enter the open wound of your tongue piercing while it heals.
The good news is that once the piercing is fully healed, you don’t usually need to worry about infections anymore. So you just have to get through those first couple of months to avoid the most serious complications of infection.
Whether you are thinking about getting your tongue pierced or had it done recently, you need to make sure you cover this information to prevent a nasty infection.
What Is A Tongue Piercing Infection?
Basically, 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.
A tongue piercing infection can sometimes be difficult to spot. That’s because it’s normal for the tongue to swell and remain swollen for a week or more after getting pierced.
However, while swelling around a new tongue piercing is completely routine, swelling can also be one of the primary indicators of infection, so you may not realize you have an infection right away.
Other infection symptoms can also be a normal part of the tongue piercing process, such as pain that lasts up to a month. A piercing traumatizes the surrounding tissue, therefore, it’s going to be somewhat inflamed at first, just like an infection would be.
Nevertheless, just because a normally healing tongue piercing shares many visual similarities with an infected tongue piercing, it doesn’t mean that an infection is no big deal. Infections can spread past the site of the piercing, and those that enter the bloodstream can lead to further health problems.
What Causes Tongue Piercing Infections?
As mentioned, bacteria entering the piercing is the cause of tongue piercing infections. However, there is always bacteria in your mouth. Normal bacteria that inhabits a healthy mouth does not cause infections.
Certain circumstances, unfortunately, can make the piercing susceptible to harmful bacteria that cause infections.
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 remove 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 enters a piercing at the body piercing studio. This is becoming less common as the studios who get the best business continue learning best practices for sterilizing equipment and preventing infections.
Believe me, a reputable piercer does not want you to end up with an infection. To make sure you’re working with professionals, get referrals for the piercing studio you plan to go to.
A more popular studio means they’ve had more happy customers. Another sign of a reputable piercer is that they discuss proper piercing aftercare with you.
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
You shouldn’t have your hands in your mouth anyway, but know that your hands are constantly picking up bacteria from the surfaces you touch.
Therefore, 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.
An irritated tongue
The tongue can become irritated for various reasons.
If your tongue is already irritated by something, it’s not as well-equipped to handle bacteria and prevent an infection.
A few things that can irritate your tongue include drinking hot beverages while the piercing is still healing, using mouthwash with alcohol while the piercing is still healing, and playing with your tongue jewelry.
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.
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 signs to look for.
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.
Anything past the initial 7 to 10 days is a reason for concern. Experiencing some swelling for longer than 10 days doesn’t necessarily mean you have an infection, but if your tongue is still swollen at that point, check for other signs of infection. You may also find other hard lumps around the piercing which could be caused by infected or other conditions.
Redness and tenderness
Again, the site of your tongue piercing is going to be a bit red, tender and painful, and this is totally normal. That’s inflammation at work. Inflammation is one way your body deals with healing.
The thing is that inflammation can be your body coping with piercing trauma and healing, or it can be your body trying to fight an infection.
Therefore, 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.
Absolutely go to a doctor for antibiotic treatment if your tongue changes color. That’s a sign of serious and advanced infection.
How To Treat An Infected Tongue Piercing
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.
One of the best things you can do is keep your mouth clean to try to reduce the level of bacteria in your piercing. Rinse your mouth with salt water after each time you eat.
If the swelling or pain is uncomfortable, you can suck on a small piece of ice. It will help reduce inflammation.
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.
For severe or long-lasting infections, you need to go to a doctor for antibiotic treatment. It will prevent more serious complications.
What Happens After A Tongue Piercing Infection?
If treated and healed, your tongue piercing should return to normal after clearing up an infection. It’s important that you continue to follow good oral hygiene well after the infection and the piercing are healed. You can get an infection or another infection even years after your tongue is pierced.
Any minor injury to your tongue piercing can let in bacteria, no matter how small the wound. This is more likely if your piercing experiences trauma or if you have a habit of playing with and pulling on the jewelry.
How To Prevent Tongue Piercing Infections In The Future
If you have not yet gotten your tongue pierced or have healed from a tongue piercing infection, then 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
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.
Tongue piercing infections are no fun to deal with. Do yourself a favor and keep your mouth clean to have the best chance at preventing an infection.
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.