Tongue jewelry is no longer limited to the typical barbell styles we saw when the trend first appeared on the fashion scene. Today’s tongue rings glow-in-the-dark, blink, vibrate, have crystals, feature unique shapes and even display logos.

If that decision isn’t enough, these rings can be formed from surgical steel, anodized steel, acrylic and even titanium. The size of a tongue ring is usually determined by the tolerance level of the wearer. Many start out with a 1.6mm piercing and gradually stretch their piercing to accommodate larger sized jewelry. It is possible to stretch a piercing up to ½ inch.

The History of Tongue Piercing

The practice of tongue piercing has a history in both Aztec and Mayan cultures. Both civilizations used tongue piercing as a ritual to honor their gods. This wasn’t done as a long-term option for appearances, but rather a way to draw blood and endure pain. Perforations of the body were considered an offering to a deity. Some mediums of the Far East practiced tongue piercing as an offering and proof of trance state. Western cultures were first introduced to tongue piercings through carnival and sideshow performers around the turn of the 20th century. This fashion statement caught on as a popular trend in the mid 1980’s and is now the fifth most popular piercing site in the western world after the ear.

While this does seem to be a popular option among younger populations, is it really a safe choice?

Most U.S. states do require a client to be 18 years of age to pierce a tongue. States vary on how well the industry is regulated and/or inspected, but the same recommendations are made for those seeking tattoos:

1. Only use licensed facilities with licensed body piercers. Make sure they adhere to stringent universal precautions for sterilization of needles and equipment, bio-hazard waste disposal and infection control practices.

2. Do your research. Use a facility and a piercer that has a lot of experience and a solid reputation.

3. Strictly follow all after-care procedures. Clean the piercing daily with antiseptic, rinse regularly with non-alcoholic mouthwash and daily use your TUNG Brush and Gel once the swelling goes down. Seek medical attention immediately if an infection occurs.

Even with all of these precautions, it’s important to note that there are still risks involved with a tongue piercing. According to the International Dental Society there is a risk of damaging teeth – up to 39% of people with tongue piercings have dental problems.

Other reported risks include an inability to swallow, breathing difficulties, severe swelling of the tongue, paralysis of the tongue muscle, choking on ingested jewelry that has come loose and infections. Dental fractures affect up to 41% of people with tongue rings. Recession of gingival tissue affects up to 68% of tongue ornament wearers. The alveolar tooth-bearing bone could be affected in a way that jeopardizes the stability and durability of the teeth, requiring periodontal regeneration surgery.

Additionally, a higher prevalence of colonization of Candida albicans was reported in young individuals with tongue piercing, in comparison to non-tongue-pierced individuals. Although it’s very rare, some deadly brain abscesses due to infection caused from tongue piercings have occurred.

Most tongue piercings, when done by licensed professionals and given proper follow-up care, do heal quickly with no major problems. When the piercing is no longer desired, the jewelry can easily be removed and the opening usually closes up within hours or days with no long-term effects.

Perhaps the real question to ask is this: “Will tongue jewelry make a big enough fashion statement to be worth the potential risks?”

Photo: Photodune