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Over the past twenty years, body piercing is a common practice in Western society. Many people have expanded beyond single ear piercings to multiple ear piercings or more exotic piercing locations such as the navel, nose, or nipples. Another preferred body piercing location is the tongue. If you are considering getting a your tongue pierced, you should be aware of proper piercing and aftercare techniques.


The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice reports that the ancient Mayans of Central America used tongue piercing to demonstrate courage and virility. Modern day people in India may pierce their tongues to show a vow of silence. Tongue piercings may be permanent or left in place temporarily for rituals. Westerners who choose to get their tongue pierced usually do so as a personal statement to represent an adventurous personality.


The name "tongue ring" is a misnomer as most tongue jewelry actually is a barbell with beads on each end of the bar. Actual rings are used only if the piercing is close to the tip or side of the tongue. There are two types of tongue rings: internally or externally threaded jewelry. In internally threaded tongue rings, the beads on each end have a "male" end that screws into the "female" end of the bar. Externally threaded tongue rings are the opposite, with the bar having the "male"end and the bead the "female"; end. The Association of Professional Piercers recommends internally threaded jewelry for initial piercings, as passing the rough end of an externally threaded bar through your fresh piercing can further injure and irritate your tongue. Retainers are typically all one piece, clear or flesh-colored and flat on the top, and they are used to keep the tongue piercing open if you cannot wear a visible tongue ring.


Tongue rings are typically made of metal or acrylic materials. The APP advises that metal tongue rings are best for a new piercing, as your piercer can autoclave, or sterilize, them first. Additionally, sterilization prevents the piece from developing pits or scratches that can harbor bacteria. Acrylic is commonly used for tongue ring beads and retainers.


Tongue rings have two measurements--the gauge, or thickness of the bar, and the length of the bar from bead to bead. Montana Body Art advises you to begin with a size 14 gauge that is 5/8 inches long. This will give your tongue some room to swell after the piercing. You should switch to a shorter tongue ring, generally 1/2 inch, when your piercing heals. The American Dental Association states that your piercing will be fully healed in 4 to 6 weeks.


The ADA warns that tongue rings can cause chipped teeth, erosion of the gums, and infection. You can help prevent chipped teeth by choosing tongue rings with acrylic beads and by not playing with your tongue ring. Proper aftercare procedures, which your piercer should give you, are essential to prevent infection. If the beads come loose, the ADA warns that you may swallow one. Therefore, you should check your tongue ring with clean hands daily to make sure the beads are firmly screwed on.