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Tongue Mutilation

Tongue splitting is an extreme kind of tongue mutilation.  Only around since the mid- 1990’s, it has not become normal or acceptable in society’s eyes yet.  Now, even tongue bars or rings are overlooked, but this is nowhere close.  The first known tongue splitting surgeries were done in Italy.  People have begun to accept all of the new extreme piercings and body tattoos, but this procedure is much more surprising and even distasteful to some people.  Not only have doctors learned how to successfully split the tongue (See a video here), but they have also learned how to reverse the procedure by sewing it back together. Tongue zippering is not exactly what these surgeons have in mind.  Tongue splitting seems to be turning into a fashion statement and people who support it are encouraging its sudden popularity.  They see it as a way to “shape their own identity.” (See http://www.bmezine.com /news/lizardman/20050726.html )


Tongue Ornaments

A Current Trend

Arguably the most popular form of tongue mutilation, this practice has gained in popularity with well known artists such as Kelly Osbourne, Scary Spice and other celebrities such as the Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips.





As this practice will not likely end soon, we think it is important to discuss not only the proper methods and maintenance protocol, but the potential hazards inherent in tongue piercing as well.




Foremost in this discussion is a look at sterile techniques. With potential transmission of the AIDS or hepatitis virus and other transmissible virulent diseases, piercing instruments must be sterilized using an acceptable method for killing all pathogens. As autoclave, which provides heat and pressure over a prescribed amount of time is the preferred method, but most piercing practitioners will not use this for financial reasons. If you are going to do this, ask about their methods of sterilization, and if unacceptable, find another establishment. Your health is far too important to take this chance.



Some states in the U.S. have regulations that piercing artists must adhere to, while others do not. It would be of interest to anyone undergoing a procedure to check with their individual state prior to visiting a facility, then make sure those regulations are being seriously adhered to by the practitioner.


Another consideration is the potential allergic reaction to the stud. A considerable number of females, specifically, are allergic to the nickel found in many studs. Make sure it is made of gold, titanium or surgical steel. Tongue swelling leading to breathing problems is an unwanted complication to anyone going through this.



Your dentist can help with hygiene instructions, especially while it is healing. Specifically, methods for keeping the bacterial count at a minimum should be employed. Light brushing with a soft brush, as well as use of an antiseptic mouthwash, is recommended.





Before having your tongue pierced, it is important that you realize the potential complications. Without this knowledge, you will be unable to make an intelligent decision.


Infection, as mentioned before, is the primary concern.

The act of piercing any body part always carries a risk of infection, but the tongue is very close to the airway, so it is most important in tongue piercing. Additionally, bacteria lounging beneath the tongue can spread rather quickly, leading to blood poisoning, bacteremia, Ludwig’s angina or the potentially fatal endocarditis or toxic shock syndrome.


The reason nitroglycerine tablets are placed below the tongue is because the drug is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. This also means that bacteria readily find entrance into our blood. If you have had previous infective endocarditis or cardiac valve replacement therapy, you are at a high risk for having cardiac complications. Likewise, if you have mitral valve prolapse or have had damage to the heart from a heart murmur, it is imperative that antibiotics be taken prior to any piercing for prophylactic reasons.


Recent research by the dental schools at Loma Linda and Ohio State found that extended wear of tongue jewelry could increase one’s chance of gum recession. They examined and surveyed 52 patients with pierced tongues. They found gum recession in 35% of patients with pierced tongues of 4 or more years. Additionally, they found that when wearing long-stemmed barbells for 2 or more years, 50% had gum recession.


Dentists will often find chipped teeth resulting from tongue piercings, and in fact, this is far and away the most common risk involved with tongue jewelry. Ice chewing is heavily discouraged by dentists, and it has a density much less than the metal used in most tongue barbells. Although hard to find, most dentists would prefer a softer material be used in tongue jewelry.


Another potential complication concerns swallowing or inhaling the tongue jewelry. Should it unexpectedly become loose, it could create severe breathing problems.


There is also a danger of prolonged bleeding if blood vessels are damaged during the piercing treatment.


Taste buds are embedded throughout the tongue, so there can be a loss of taste sensation, especially if nerves are injured, and prolonged numbness occurs.


Then there is the potential interference with chewing, speech and swallowing. If the stud is too long, or too far forward, chewing will create unwanted contact with the front teeth, causing some chipping over time. Certain words can be difficult to pronounce, making the speaker sound about 50 I.Q. points lower than usual. Swallowing requires a seal to create an efficient swallow, and the presence of an obstructive piece of jewelry can make this rather difficult.


Additionally, there is a chance of deep cyst formation, which may be difficult to diagnose; scarring, which would not be difficult to see; or neuromas, which are overgrowths of nerve tissue after injury.

For some anecdotal discussion from many who have had their tongues pierced, see this site. This is one disenfranchised individual's post:

It's been roughly two months since the initial piercing, and one month since the repiercing (My tongue piercing was swallowed when one of the balls came dislodged and i was eating a carmel and the remainingball and rod went down with the ship), and when pressure is applied to either side with significant force, it still smarts.

Some of the 'annoyances' not mentioned above are:

  • After the initital piercing, the resulting swelling makes the process of swallowing extrememly hard, and when attempts at eating solid food ensues, massive amounts of pain follow.
  • When the swelling begins, you tend to bite the edges of your tongue. That hurts more than the piercing process itself.
  • The top of the piercing tends to come unscrewed, and as a result, can get caught in passing food, and go down with the foodstuff. Hearing a clink in the toilet a few days later isn't comforting either.

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