A Complete Guide to Oral Piercings


Body piercings involve puncturing a part of the body to insert jewelry. Along with ear, nose, and naval piercings, various oral piercings through the lips, tongue, and cheek tissue have become popular self-expression. But oral piercings require extra care and precautions to allow proper healing and avoid risks.

This guide will overview the most popular types of oral piercings and what to expect during the process. We’ll also cover appropriate aftercare and what to look out for when deciding where and how to get your oral piercing.

Lip Piercings

Lip piercings come in several forms, with jewelry placed through or around the lips themselves. Common types include:

– Labret – Centered below the lower lip or above the upper lip

– Vertical labret – Through the upper or lower lip, set vertically

– Horizontal lip piercings – Through the lip horizontally

– Lip rings – Rings that encircle the lips

– Medusa – Located under the center of the upper lip

Lip piercing jewelry is measured in gauges or diameters just like earrings. Typical gauges for initial lip piercings range from 14g to 18g. The higher the gauge number, the smaller the diameter of the jewelry. For example, 18g pieces are often 0.8mm (1/32”) in diameter.

Rings or tiny studs with ball ends are used. Labret studs have a flat back resting against the inner lip. Rings must be large enough diameter to accommodate lip swelling after piercing. Appropriately sized studs or rings ensure the jewelry sits flush against the lip. Overly tight-fitting or thin jewelry can imbed into the swelling tissues and cause complications.

About the Piercing Procedure

Oral piercings should only be performed by reputable, experienced piercers following strict sanitation practices. The lip area is thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before piercing. Dot markings help guide placement. The dot is also checked against the ring or barbell to double check fit.

Clamps temporarily hold the lip area stable so the hollow piercing needle can pass straight through the marked dot. For rings, a receiving tube is placed on the back of the lip to catch the needle after it passes through the outer lip area. The needle is gently guided through the lip, into the receiving tube.

Once the needle is through, jewelry is attached to follow through the fresh piercing. With rings, one bead or ball is preattached, allowing the ring to slide into the new piercing opening before the second ball is affixed to close the ring. For labrets and other studs, the post end inserts into the hollow back of the needle, then the needle pulls through to bring the jewelry into place.

Pain is usually minimal during the actual piercing process since it happens quickly. The clamping sensation typically causes most discomfort. But the minor pinch or sting felt when the needle goes through dissipates instantly.

Healing and Aftercare

Like any new piercing, expect the area to be sensitive, swollen, and possibly bruised for the first few days. Using ice can help minimize swelling. Rinse the mouth with antibacterial rinse like Biotene 2-3 times daily. Avoid irritants like spicy foods, smoking, or excessive alcohol during the healing period.

The pierced area should be kept very clean by gently rinsing after eating and brushing teeth. Hands should be freshly washed before touching or checking piercings. Lip balm should be dabbed on rather than smeared across the area.

Healing takes approximately 6-8 weeks for lip piercings as long as proper aftercare is followed. During this time, refrain from changing out jewelry or removing studs/rings even briefly. The tissues need time to fully stabilize around the piercing.

Once healed, jewelry can be changed by inserting and removing one side at a time, allowing the other end to remain anchored in the piercing. However, continue to keep the area clean and watch for potential migration over time. Even healed piercings can begin to move or reject if irritated. See your piercer at the first sign of any problems.

Tongue Piercings

Along with being an established cultural tradition in some regions, tongue piercings are a popular form of self-expression. They allow you to highlight your mouth in a subtle or bold way, depending on the jewelry chosen.

Tongue piercings are most commonly placed centrally towards the tip of the tongue. But they can also be set farther back or to one side. Double tongue piercings with one barbell towards the front and one towards the back are also an option.

For initial piercings, the jewelry used is a barbell shaped post with balls on the ends. 14g-16g are common diameters, allowing room for the tongue to swell and heal properly. Avoid tongue rings for the initial piercing. The curved shape and enclosed area can impair healing.

Piercing Procedure

Only allow extremely experienced piercers to perform a tongue piercing. Precise, quick placement is vital. The tongue tissue is held steady using forceps during the process. Dot markings ensure proper positioning.

The piercer will have you stick out your tongue and hold it still between gauze pads or towels. In one smooth motion, the hollow piercing needle will slide straight through the marked spot mid-tongue. As soon as the needle passes through, the jewelry is inserted into the hollow opening to let it slide into position as the needle is removed.

There will be a short sharp sensation as the needle goes through the tongue. But the process is so fast, any pain dissipates almost instantly. Keep your tongue held steady throughout and breathe slowly through your nose to stay relaxed.

The jewelry balls are screwed on once the barbell is in place, which allows room for the tongue to swell around the post. The piercer will check that the placement looks and feels correct before sending you on your way.

Healing and Risks

Tongue piercing risks include swelling, damage to teeth and gums if jewelry is ill-fitting, infection, and rejection. Follow aftercare instructions closely to promote proper healing and avoid complications.

Severe swelling is common during the first 3-4 days. Using ice and over-the-counter pain medication can provide relief. Cold foods like popsicles also help. Hot, spicy or acidic foods should be avoided until the tongue heals.

Rinse your mouth with antibacterial rinse 2-3 times a day, especially after eating. The barbell may feel bulky and foreign at first. Be very careful around the jewelry to avoid accidentally biting it. Allow 6-8 weeks before attempting to change the piercing.

See your piercer right away or consult a dentist if you experience abnormal or worsening pain, swelling, bleeding, or other problems. With proper placement and care, a tongue piercing should heal well and stay secure for years.

Cheek and Lip Frenulum Piercings

Along with lip and tongue piercings, cheek and lip frenulum piercings are growing in popularity for oral decoration. These more delicate areas require precision and care both during the process and healing.

Lip And Tongue Piercings

Cheek Piercings

Also referred to as dimple piercings, these involve piercing the inside of the oral cheek, allowing jewelry to show through subtly on the outer face. Mini curved barbells are often used.

Cheek tissue is much thinner and more difficult to pierce evenly compared to the lips or tongue. Only very experienced piercers should perform this type of oral piercing due to the intricacy involved.

The curved needle must enter through the outer cheek first to create an exit hole. Then it can be carefully guided fully through the inner cheek tissue, pushing the jewelry into place behind it.

Because there is so little cheek tissue to stabilize the jewelry initially, migration or rejection risks are higher. Meticulous aftercare of the piercing for 6-8 weeks is vital. Even once healed, migration can occur if pressure is applied over time. These piercings often require more vigilance than tougher lip or tongue piercings.

Lip Frenulum Piercings

The lip frenulum is the band of vertical tissue that tethers the lip to the gum line. A lip frenulum piercing goes through this delicate band of tissue.

While less complex than cheek piercings, the lip frenulum is extremely sensitive and prone to tearing if jewelry is forced through or migrates. Only tiny delicate rings or mini barbells can be used without risk of damage. The thin frenulum tissue also makes rejection more likely.

As with any oral piercing, the site must be fully healed before attempting to change jewelry. Follow all aftercare instructions diligently. See your piercer at the first sign of migration or discomfort. Because of the intricacy and risks, lip frenulum piercings in particular should only be done by piercers with specialized experience in delicate oral piercings.

Caring for Oral Piercings

Oral piercings require diligent aftercare during the initial 6-8 week healing phase and beyond. Be sure to:

– Rinse mouth with antibacterial rinse like Biotene 2-3 times daily

– Gently brush around piercing sites after eating

– Avoid irritants like smoking, spicy foods, or excessive alcohol

– Refrain from oral sexual contact until healed

– Keep hands and jewelry clean to avoid infection

– Avoid submerging new piercings in water like pools or baths

– Sleep with head elevated to minimize swelling for tongue/lip piercings

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