Oral health risks of tongue tattoos

November 26, 2015

Oral health risks of tongue tattoos
Tongue tattoos
Tattoo on the tongue

In the last couple decades tongue and lip tattoos and piercings have gained popularity among the youth. But this isn’t just a recent trend. People practiced this form of body art as far back as the 18th century. That is when European sailors visited the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands and saw the natives of Hawaii tattoo their tongues with three dots when mourning. Tongue tattoos are just reemerging, and with them comes a number of questions especially those concerned about oral health. Here are a few things you need to know about tongue tattoos.


Process for Tongue and Oral Tattoos

The process for tongue tattoos is similar to that done on other parts of the body. The artist uses a stabilizer to keep the tongue still. Then the artist uses small needles to puncture the skin with coats of ink to create the tattoo. The process is fairly quick, the sensation odd, and the pain is often low but still expected. At least that is what many people say who have gotten tattoos on their tongue.


Tongue Tattoo Aftercare

The skin needs to heal, and for a tongue tattoo this usually means about three weeks. A crust is likely to develop over the tattooed area while it heals. This is normal, but can be painful and unsightly. You need to take extra caution to keep your tongue clean and prevent infection during the healing period. Unfortunately, after all that, your tongue tattoo might not last very long, because of the acids and saliva secreted in the mouth. Depending on the method and pigment, some last two weeks, others a couple of years at most. The tongue is covered with epithelial layers, meant to protect against the wear and tear of daily use. It resists damage and heals quickly. You must be vigilant against infection while the site heals. If you experience any signs of swelling, pain, or fever then visit your doctor or oral health care provider immediately.


Health Risks of Tongue Tattoos

Tongue tattoos, as with tattoos and piercings of all types, do come with concerns. A few include:


  1. Infection. Your mouth is teeming with bacteria all the time. Additional bacteria from needles or handling jewelry will increase your risk. Also a tongue or lip tattoo might exacerbate a pre-existing condition.
  2. Disease transmission. Oral tattoos and piercings also have the potential risk for the transmission of herpes simplex virus as well as hepatitis B and C.
  3. Endocarditis. Because tongue tattoos include piercing the capillaries of the tongue, this could introduce bacteria directly into the bloodstream. In turn it may result in an inflammation of the heart or the valves, especially in those with an underlying heart problem.
  4. Allergic reaction. Some people who decide on tongue tattoos have an allergic reaction to the ink or metal used.
  5. Taste bud damage. Tattooing the tongue destroys taste buds in the tattooed area.


Tips for Reducing Your Risk

Most dentists would advise patients against tongue and lip tattoos and piercings. However, if you are a fan of tongue tattoos and have decided to go through with one, here are a few tips to help protect your oral health.

1. Ask Around

Find a few friends or locals with tongue tattoos that have not suffered any ill consequences. They will help recommend a clean, licensed studio for you.

2. Check the Technician

You want to verify licensing and experience for yourself. Also look for other referrals or testimonials from individuals with problem-free procedures.

3. Verify a Clean Studio

Visit the shop and make sure it is clean and equipment is properly sterilized. Also ask to see the studio’s health certificates. And don’t be shy about asking if employees have hepatitis B vaccinations, because they should.

4. Check the Tools and Pigments

Verify that the technician uses new needles and ink. Make sure packaging is opened in front of you. The tech should also wear gloves during all points of the procedure.

5. Ask About Risks and Complications

Talk to the technician about what to expect during the procedure, how much pain is normal, and the risks of the procedure. Also clarify what steps you need to take for aftercare.

To protect your health you must be aware of all the complications that might come from any type or oral tattoo or piercing. The health of your mouth is directly connected to your overall health and wellbeing. An oral infection or other complication from a tongue tattoo could impact more than just your tongue. So proceed with caution. 


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