I had my first tongue piercing done in November 1999. It was 12g and I wore it constantly, I stretched it up a bit to 8g in fall '00 but went back to 12 shortly thereafter because it annoyed me. I took it out completely in summer '01 but to my surprise, it never closed up. Over the next few years I wore it intermittently when I felt like it. In spring '03 I decided I wanted it split but I had just moved to Cleveland, Ohio from Seattle where the artist I knew and trusted for that type of work was living so I figured I would put it off until I went back for a visit. A year passed and in spring '04 I found out that another artist who I knew and had worked with in Seattle would be coming to Cleveland so I started wearing my jewelry again to prepare to finally have my tongue split. The split went well and I had little or no regrowth. I was very happy but after awhile I didn't feel like it went back far enough and I wanted more control over the individual muscles. I had a boyfriend who could twirl a cigarette like a baton with his tongue split and I couldn't even move the two sides individually.
I never got around to having it pierced again though because living in Cleveland, even with a lot of local shops, I didn't feel like there were a lot of quality piercers who I felt comfortable with in the area. And from there I left the country in the spring of '06 and spent a long time traveling. When I was finally back in America I had another artist with a solid reputation for such work cut the tongue further back. However, we both knew that without sutures (which I didn't want) or cautery (not an option), the split was very likely to grow back without a prior piercing to serve as an anchor point. Because I was only in America for a short time and didn't have time to heal a piercing before I left I decided to take the chance that it would grow back. The split itself went very well, but as feared, most of the new split grew back together. A few days after that I left for a new adventure in Thailand.
I was living on an island called Koh Tao in the gulf of Thailand. It's a scuba diver's island mostly, filled with a constant stream of tourists from all over the world. The primary island activities include diving all day and drinking all night. Unlike other popular islands like Koh Samui, Koh Tao was still a small island with only about 1000 full time residents. It had no chains like McDonalds, and mostly dirt roads and its only real industry was tourism.. But like any tourist destination, it was filled with places for kids on gap years to get tattoos and piercing to bring home and shock their parents or impress their friends.
I had lived on Koh Tao for 3 months and became a scuba diving instructor. One rainy day I was feeling a bit bored and wandering the main street in the only large-ish town on the island. I wandered into a shop called Thai Body Art which was supposed to be the best shop on the island. To be fair, the quality of the tattoos in a lot of the shops were amazing, especially the hand tapped work as opposed to machine tattoos. I looked through portfolios for awhile and decided on a whim to have my tongue piercing done so that when I went back to the US I could have it re-split.
While the tattoo work that came out of the shop was well done, the shop itself was well below the standards I was used to in the US. I don't think its just because it was Thailand, because shops below industry standard exist in America as well, and are attended by people who don't feel the need to educate themselves about what they are doing before they have their piercing done. Like those shops, this one fell well below what I was used to as someone with high cleanliness standards. But living there I just decided to do when traveling and get out of my comfort zone.
The jewelry used was 14g. I knew that tongue piercings should be done with 12g but decided to do it anyway. Initially they tried to give me a shorter bar, the sort one would wear in a tongue piercing but I asked them for something longer to allow for the swelling I knew would occur. One should be pierced with a longer bar. It might seem long at first but the tongue will swell a lot, but after it is healed a bit you can switch to shorter more comfortable jewelry. Sterilizing the jewelry did not occur in an autoclave but with some sort of solution. Again, this does not insure complete sterility. Always make sure your jewelry has been autoclaved in addition to any tools that are used on you during the process. Its not only important for the needle to be single use, the tools should be clean as well.
I knew the piercing would also be difficult because the piercer would have to avoid going through the thicker frenulum farther back without making the piercing too lopsided. I asked the piercer whether he felt comfortable doing this and he assured me that he did. I wasn't sure, but decided to go ahead with it. (let me add here this is the first and only time I've ever been willing to get work done when I wasn't confident in the artist and the shop in which it was performed.)
First I washed my mouth out with Listerine. The artist put on gloves (these were the one and only pair of gloves he wore throughout the process. I am used to piercers changing gloves throughout. This is also a warning sign to walk away before they touch you) and began the marking process with a pen. (also not sterile, look for a piercer that uses something that is single use.) He made the marks and asked me to look at them. They were very skewed. I re did the top mark to make it closer to the centre and he re did the bottom mark to match. This was much better.
It was then time for the clamps which is always the least fun part of any piercing. Like the jewelry, the only cleaning of the clams came from some sort of solution. Before the clamps I told him about the way I like to be pierced. I like to count to three, hold my breath on the third and then breathe out a long breath with the piercing. By regulating my breath this way it makes the whole process much smoother and less shocking. I was clamped and ready to go.
The needle he used was strange, it was in a sterile pack but it was a medical needle, the sort one would get in a hospital with a plastic end for attaching something to draw blood or give an injection. I am used to a piercing being very quick. The first time I had my tongue pierced it was over before I knew it. This piercer took ages. It took at least 10 seconds and several shoves. It was the most difficult piercing I have ever had.
Then, instead of putting the jewelry against the end of the needle and sliding it through while sliding the needle out, he took the needle out completely and then attempted to put the jewelry in. The jewelry was an obviously cheap piece with one end of the barbell permanently attached. The other end was externally threaded as opposed to the much more desirable internal threading. This means that as the threading goes in and out of a piercing it can irritate the fistula or the newly punctured tissue. I don't know, but highly doubt that it was surgical grade stainless steel which is something I would expect from a quality shop. Because he didn't slide it in immediately it was much more painful and difficult to get in because a new hole can be difficult to find when blood is coming from the wound. It was also more difficult to slide through without the needle keeping the new piercing open as the jewelry slides in. So not only was the piercing difficult, but the insertion was more painful as well. The only thing that went easily was that he managed to get the ball on without a hitch.
I have only once before felt dizzy, weak, and nauseated after a piercing and that was 7 years before. But after that ordeal I had to sit for awhile before I could stand up. The total cost including jewelry came to 1200 bhat which is about 25$. This is quite a lot considering I paid around 50-75 bhat for a meal that was big enough to last all day and paid 4500 a month for my room. Luckily I saved money because over the next 6 days all I could eat was crushed ice. Last time I had my tongue pierced it was painful and difficult but I was back to normal food (although carefully) in 2-3 days. This time I spent several days overdosing on tramadone to kill the pain and sucking down cup after cup of ice. This is not normal.
I followed the normal routine that I followed after any piercing which is salt water soaks. The ideal aftercare for a piercing is sea salt as is offers a natural clensing effect without being overly harsh on the body like something that contains alcohol. I put ¼ a tsp of sea salt in 1 cup of hot water and washed my mouth out with it after eating meals. At night I would sort of hold it in my mouth for awhile till it cooled down, spit it out, and hold another gulp for a total of 10-15 minutes. I did not use Listerine whichs ome places suggest. Listerine contains alcohol and can irritate a healing piercing.
But this piercing wasn't like a normal piercing where after a few days the swelling goes down and its less irritating. The pain remained but it was a different sharper pain and if affected my whole head. I had a constant headache and a hard time sleeping at night. The pain made me weak and I couldn't eat which made it difficult for me to work. The area right around the hole felt a bit hard to the touch. The good thing about Thailand is that unlike the US, I didn't have to go into the doctor to get antibiotics. I started taking antibiotics and after a few more days it felt a bit better. I had a serious infection that was affecting my entire body and I think I was lucky that was all I escaped with.
The piercing didn't look that bad. It was kind of sexy with the split tongue and if it hadn't been for the constant pain I would have been ok with it. It was slightly more skewed then I would have liked but the placement wasn't overly awfuf. The problem was that it never felt completely right and was still sore after a month. No piercing is healed in such a short time, but the soreness was abnormal and in the time I had the piercing in I lost at least 10 pounds because I couldn't handle the pain of eating normally and kissing my boyfriend was painful. As hot it might have looked, it didn't feel that way.
I was torn because I had already gone through so much to heal it but I didn't know if I wanted to deal with it any more. One night I was so sick of it that I took it out. I dodn't regret taking it out. I decided that even after dealing with so much to heal it thus far ,I was better off taking it out and waiting until I found a clean, reputable shop with a knowledgeable artist to do the piercing.
I guess the point of this experience is not just to discuss a tongue piercing itself, but the problems that can arise when one compromises safety for convenience. With body modification, from a relatively simple tongue piercing to implants, the importance of quality cannot be underestimated. It may not be convenient, or cheap, but its better to take your time, do research, and find a decent shop that does quality work over some place that may be closer or cheaper. Don't get work done on a whim, even something like a tongue piercing can go horribly wrong without high standards of cleanliness, quality jewelry, and a knowledgeable artist. I was lucky that I didn't suffer major complications or develop serious health problems. If you are thinking about a tongue piercing, any piercing, a tattoo, etc....take your time and do your research. Sites like BME can be an excellent resource in sorting out the good from the bad. And remember that you get what you pay for. Your local shop might offer a piercing plus jewelry for 20$, but for that price I doubt you will get high quality jewelry or piercer who cares to maintain a high standard of care...they just want to churn out customers. Do you want to be the one that gets hepatitis?
If you are in the US call around, especially look for shops that are APP affiliated. And in the US or abroad, don't expect anything less then the same standards of cleanliness that you would expect from a doctors office. Make sure your jewelry is surgical grade stainless steel or titanium and if you are using a barbell or cbb, you may pay extra but you want internally threaded jewelry. You want a shop with an autoclave that has a dry cycle and has passed recent spore tests. You want a shop with an artist who has taken courses in things like blood bourne pathogens. Really, I cannot stress how important it is to take care of your body and to make sure that whatever you put into it is done as safely as possible. Bad things can occur, even with all my knowledge and experience I still put myself in a risky position. So above all take your time, do your research, and ask the right questions. Its better to pay a little bit more for something you know is quality then to save a little bit of money or time on something that could land you in the hospital or at the least, with horrible scarring. Do it right and be smart and pay for good work and you will be happy with your tongue piercing or anything else you think to get done.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 07 April 2008
in Tongue Piercing