If you've just had your tongue pierced, it's very important for you to perform proper tongue piercing aftercare to avoid infection. Tongue piercing infections can be quite dangerous and require antibiotics quickly. You can avoid getting an infection and ensure that your tongue piercing heals fully and lasts for as many years as you want to keep it by following these simple tongue piercing care instructions:
#1. Keep Your Mouth Clean.
Your mouth is filled with bacteria that could get into the open wound in your tongue (called a fistula), take root, and develop into a bacterial infection. Prevent that from happening by keeping your mouth clean. Do not use an alcohol-based mouthwash to rinse your mouth, though, or you may dry out your piercing and delay the healing process. It's best to use a sea salt-based oral rinse like Recovery Oral Piercing Aftercare - Alcohol Free Mouthwash or H2Ocean Oral Rinse. Alternatively, you can make a homemade sea salt solution to swish around your mouth morning, night, and after meals. Either way, you should rinse your mouth 3-6 times a day, at least for the first few weeks. If you don't have access to sea salt solution immediately following a meal, you can rinse with plain water when needed. You just want to be sure to dislodge any food particles that have gotten trapped in your fistula while eating.
To make a homemade sea salt solution, buy sterile water or boil water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize it. Measure out 1 cup into a heat-safe container, and then mix in 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt. (Recovery Aftercare Sea Salt From the Dead Sea is a great choice.) Let the mixture cool to a comfortable temperature before swishing it around your mouth and spitting it out. Repeat until you've rinsed for at least 5 minutes per cleaning 2-3 times a day, and rinse for at least 30 seconds after eating anything.
Continue your regular oral hygiene routine as your tongue piercing heals, but be gentle. You still need to brush your teeth and floss regularly; you just have to go about it more carefully than you did before getting your tongue pierced. Consider buying a soft-bristled toothbrush if you don't already have one, and brush gently. Try not to bang your toothbrush into your new tongue piercing or snag it with dental floss. If you normally use an alcohol-based mouthwash like Listerine, switch to a gentle, breath-freshening, non-alcoholic alternative like Recovery Oral Piercing Aftercare during the tongue piercing healing process.
#2. Eat Soft, Mild Foods for the First Week.
Your tongue will be swollen and achy for at least a few days after being pierced, so avoid hard foods that may irritate it further. Stick with things like soup, yogurt, mac and cheese, protein shakes, pudding, popsicles, and other soft foods, and avoid hard foods like sandwiches with crusty bread. Oatmeal, mashed potatoes and grits may seem like appealing soft food options, but they can be sticky, so it might be better to avoid them. No matter what you eat, eat carefully, taking small bites and chewing slowly so as not to irritate your new tongue piercing.
In addition to eating soft foods, you should avoid spicy, acidic and hot-temperature foods and beverages during the early stages of the tongue piercing healing process. These things will just further irritate your already tender tongue. Mild-flavored foods that are cool or warm are best, and cold food and drinks will be especially soothing to your swollen tongue.
#3. Address Swelling Promptly.
If your tongue swells severely, you can let ice chips dissolve slowly in your mouth to soothe your tongue and reduce swelling. If you can tolerate a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like IBProfen, take some; just don't take aspirin in the early days after getting your tongue pierced to avoid thinning your blood and causing excess bleeding. Sleeping with your head elevated and minimizing how much you talk will also help the swelling go down more quickly.
Your starter tongue ring should be long enough that your tongue doesn't "swallow" your tongue ring if it swells. However, if you experience severe swelling and your jewelry becomes too tight, it's important to have your piercer change it for you quickly. Prolonged excessive pressure can lead to necrosis (tissue death), which can lead to a tongue piercing infection. It can also cause hypergranulation issues, where you develop a red bump that may appear fluid filled around one side of your fistula. It's best all around to get your jewelry changed quickly if it feels too tight. If you do have to get your tongue ring changed, opt for a soft BioPlast tongue ring or an acrylic tongue ring that's less likely to damage your teeth if you accidentally chomp down on it.
#4. Don't Smoke!
Smoking can dry out your mouth and contribute to a tongue piercing infection developing. It's best to avoid smoking altogether during the tongue piercing healing process, but if you can't give it up entirely, consider trying an e-cigarette to at least replace irritating smoke with water-based vapor. If you use an e-cigarette, make sure you suck gently during the first 2 weeks of the healing process. Sucking too hard on a real cigarette or cigar, an e-cigarette or even a straw can dislodge blood clots that have formed in your fistula and make your tongue piercing bleed. If you experience any bleeding, rinse your mouth gently with a Recovery Oral Rinse. You should do the same if you cave and smoke a real cigarette or cigar at any point during the tongue piercing healing process.
#5. Avoid Other People's Bacteria.
It may be tempting to French kiss your love, engage in oral sex, or just share a meal or a drink with a friend while your tongue piercing is healing. These are all bad ideas in terms of proper tongue piercing care, though. Do your best to avoid introducing bacteria into your mouth during the 4-6 week healing process. Don't share cups, plates or utensils, open-mouth kiss anyone, use chewing tobacco, perform oral sex on anyone, or chew on foreign objects like pen ends or your sunglasses. If you catch yourself slipping up, rinse your mouth with sea salt solution or an antiseptic mouthwash for 30-60 seconds afterwards.
#6. Generally Stay Healthy.
It's important that you do everything in your power to stay healthy during the tongue piercing healing process so that your body can focus all of its energy on healing your new tongue piercing. Following tongue piercing care rules #1, #4 and #5 above are a good start, but there are other things you should and shouldn't do to stay healthy. Get sufficient, quality sleep every night, eat nutritiously, avoid alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, aspirin, and emotional stress, and generally practice good hygiene (e.g. wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, particularly during cold and flu season). You can bolster your immune system further by taking extra vitamin C and a multivitamin containing zinc, iron and B vitamins every day.
#7. Don't Play With Your Jewelry.
It can be tempting to roll a new tongue ring back and forth across your lips or to play with it in other ways, but it's a bad idea during the tongue piercing healing process. You could accidentally bite down on your jewelry and chip a tooth, cause your jewelry to migrate or excess scar tissue to develop, make yourself more susceptible to infection, and more. Try to leave your piercing alone as much as possible. Talk less, and don't play with your jewelry!
#8. Don't Change Your Jewelry too Soon.
You need to give your tongue 4-6 weeks to heal before changing your jewelry, unless you're having an allergic reaction to your starter tongue ring or your barbell is too short and is putting undue pressure on your healing fistula. If you experience either issue, get your piercer to help you swap out your tongue ring for either a solid titanium straight barbell or a hypoallergenic BioPlast tongue ring. Otherwise, give your tongue plenty of time to fully heal before changing your jewelry to avoid irritating it further.
When the time comes to change your jewelry, purchase an internally-threaded tongue ring to avoid scraping you delicate fistula. You may want to get a new tongue ring that's a little shorter than your starter one, since starter tongue barbells tend to be extra long to allow room for swelling and may be uncomfortable to wear long-term. 5/8" is a fairly standard length for a tongue ring, but the thickness of your tongue may require you to get a longer or shorter barbell shaft. If you purchase a tongue ring and find that the length isn't right for you, you can buy a replacement shaft in the same size (typically 14g for tongue rings) and with matching threading, and put the balls from the tongue ring that doesn't fit right onto your replacement shaft. You may want to use a threaded taper to insert your new tongue ring, if you try to change it by yourself instead of getting your piercer to switch it for you. Note that the longer you wait to change your jewelry, the easier it will be for you to do it by yourself because the walls of your fistula will continuously thicken over time.
#9. Respond Quickly to Signs of a Tongue Piercing Infection.
You don't want to mess around with a tongue piercing infection. If you see thick, yellowish pus rather than just whitish lymph coming from your fistula and/or are running a fever, ramp up your tongue piercing aftercare regime. Increase the number of 5-minute Recovery Oral Rinse swishes you do to 3 a day in addition to rinsing every time you eat, and consider adding at least one thorough rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash to your daily tongue piercing care routine. Although it doesn't taste all that great, hydrogen peroxide will do in a pinch if you dilute it per the bottle's instructions for use as an antiseptic mouthwash.
If you don't see any improvements after a few days or your infection seems to get worse at any point, schedule an appointment with your family doctor or dentist right away. S/he will determine if you do have an infection and provide you with antibiotics if they're needed. Your doctor may also encourage you to take out your tongue piercing jewelry. You should not need to remove your tongue ring as long as you continue proper tongue piercing care while taking the antibiotic; in fact, it's best not to remove your jewelry to avoid developing an abscess. If you do remove your tongue ring, make sure to keep up with your sea salt mouthwash swishes as the fistula closes. If you want to keep your tongue piercing but are concerned about your metal barbell chipping a tooth or doing other damage to your teeth or gums, you might consider getting a BioFlex tongue ring or one with acrylic balls inserted.
#10. Visit our Forum for More Info & Help.
If you still have questions about your new tongue piercing and how best to care for it or have a tongue piercing problem and need help, visit our forum! Our knowledgeable moderators will do their best to answer your questions based on their own experiences and what they've learned by being part of our online body mod community. Our forum members will also often chip in with advice from their own experiences. Additionally, you can read about other people's tongue piercing experiences in the Facial/Oral Piercings section of the forum.
Note that you'll need a Painful Pleasures account to be able to post in our forum. You can sign up for an account here. If you need help navigating the forum and gallery systems, read our How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles.
If you're looking for additional tongue piercing care tips or have questions not answered here, check out our helpful Tongue Piercing Information Guide to find links to a variety of tongue piercing resources, including our Tongue Piercing FAQs. We also have a free Oral Piercing Aftercare article in our Information Center that you can review for additional suggestions.