How To Prevent Gum Recession With A Tongue Piercing 

How To Prevent Gum Recession With A Tongue Piercing

Oral piercings including those in the tongue can cause the gums to recede.  Those experiencing or looking to avoid exposed tooth roots, tooth decay, periodontal disease and sensitivity to hot and cold foods associated with receding gums often ask how they can prevent gum recession with a tongue piercing. 

The aim of this post is to explain the complications and risks of having a tongue and other oral piercings on the gums and the steps you can take to keep your gums healthy. 

Oral Piercing Complications and Risks

Having an oral piercing is a risky business and there are many problems that can arise from the procedure.  Bleeding, infection (such as endocarditis – infected inner lining of the heart), swelling and pain at the site can occur. In addition to this, the jewelry can cause damage to structures in the mouth. Potential damage includes

  • Cracked teeth –  damaged teeth are seen in 26% of individuals with tongue piercings.  Small cracks are caused when the piercing continually bangs the teeth. The cracks eventually get larger, leading to decayed or broken teeth and even extreme sensitivity.
  • Interference with radiographs
  • Gum tissue overgrowth
  • Swallowed or inhaled jewels – Jewelry that comes loose can be swallowed or inhaled
  • Gum damage – lacerations and tears to the gum tissue
  • Plaque accumulation on jewelry – increases the risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • Jewelry can harbor bacteria – this bacteria causes periodontal disease and tooth decay
  • Gum recession – occurs in more than 44% of individuals with piercings. This is looked at in detail below. 

How Tongue Piercings Cause Gum Recession

Barbells placed in the tongue can be in constant contact with the gums, which causes the tissue to be worn away. The amount of gum tissue surrounding the teeth gets lower – it recedes. Tongue piercings are known to strip the gums away behind the lower front incisors. 

The longer someone wears a tongue piercing, the greater the chance of gum recession and dental defects developing. 

It’s not just tongue piercings that cause gum recession. Smiley Piercings (frenulum piercing) and lip piercings can also rub along the gums causing them to wear away.

How Common Is Gum Recession With Tongue Piercing?

Receding gums is a very common problem amongst those with oral piercings. According to one systematic review gum recession occurs in

  • 44% of those with tongue piercings 
  • 50% of individuals with lip piercings. 

How Serious Is Gum Recession Caused By Oral Piercings

As the gum tissue recedes, many problems can arise, which can eventually lead to pain and sensitivity as well as tooth loss. Gum recession can be serious and shouldn’t be ignored. 

Complications Of Gum Recession 

  • Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Exposed tooth roots – the roots are composed of soft dentine, they are usually hidden below the gum line so protected from bacteria and acids. Exposure to food and bacterial acid can cause decay in the tooth roots leading to tooth loss. 
  • Periodontal Disease – Studies have also shown that lip or tongue piercings can harbor periodontopathogenic bacteria – this bacteria can lead to periodontal disease which can result in inflamed, red, bleeding gums and tooth loss. This may be more of a risk with steel or titanium piercings as one study showed that jewelry made of synthetic materials (e.g., polytetrafluoroethylene or polypropylene) have lower levels of bacterial colonization
  • Loss of soft tissues that hold the teeth in place 
  • Tooth Loss – tooth root decay, periodontal disease, loss of tissue holding the teeth in place can lead to loose wobbly teeth that are at risk of falling out. 

How To Prevent Gum Recession With Oral Piercings

The best way to avoid gum recession being caused by lip, frenulum, smiley or tongue piercings is to have them removed or abstain from having them fitted. 

The American Dental Association (ADA) advises against oral piercings as the negative health consequences outweigh the benefits (1).

However, if you still wish to express yourself with this form of body art, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself from gum recession.

  • Develop and maintain first-class oral hygiene – this will help to reduce the number of bacteria and plaque present in the mouth. This may help to reduce the risk of decay and gum disease developing. Good oral hygiene includes
    • Brushing the teeth using fluoride-containing toothpaste and a soft-bristle toothbrush twice daily
    • Carefully cleaning the interdental spaces and pockets with a Gum Pocket Brush, dental floss or interdental brushes daily. 
    • Use salt water rinses during the healing period.
  • Replace the original piercing with a smaller barbel, stud, ring or hoop that fits snug to the tongue – reducing the risk of tooth and gum damage
  • Opt for a single tongue piercing in the middle of the tongue – this is the most common and safest way to have the tongue pierced. The more piercings the greater the risk of damage
  • Opt for plastic jewelry – jewelry made from synthetic materials instead of steel or titanium this will reduce the risk of damaging the gums and teeth
  • Remove jewelry occasionally – this will allow you to properly clean your tongue
  • Avoid playing with your jewelry – rubbing your tongue against your teeth is an easy habit to develop. Continually doing this puts your teeth and gums at risk
  • Remove jewelry during contact sport – will help prevent gum lacerations and cracked teeth
  • Check piercing frequently – make sure they are secure so they don’t cause damage
  • Avoid smoking – smoking increases your risk of getting gum disease
  • Consider the type of jewelry – many people find that ball closure rings, body spirals & short circular barbells cause less gum recession. 

Knowledge is power where beating gum disease is concerned. Gum Disease: Solved online education tool arms you with the information to understand why you have gum disease and how you can beat it in only 10 minutes per day at home, without the need for costly and ineffective dental visits.

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After the Procedure

You should also follow the advice given to you by your piercer or dentist within the first few days of the procedure. This will include the following

  • Use a salt-water rinse to cleanse the mouth and site of the oral piercing.
  • After the swelling subsides, return to your piercer to replace the original, longer piece of jewelry with a shorter piece – this will help minimize damage or irritation to oral tissues.

What To Do If You Already Have Gum Recession From A Piercing

Unfortunately, the gum tissue cannot grow back on its own, so any gum recession that has occurred to date is permanent. However, you can prevent the gum recession from getting any worse by removing the piercing sooner rather than later.

If your gum recession is severe, you may be a candidate for a connective soft tissue graft – this surgical procedure is commonly known as a gingival graft

Frequently Asked Questions

What tongue bar is best for teeth? – No tongue bar is great for your teeth and gums – dentists and health professionals advise against these forms of self-expression due to the risk to your oral and general health. Some studies have suggested that jewelry made from synthetic materials is best. Opting for small bars will cause less damage than a large bar with spikes.   

Does a smiley piercing affect your teeth?  – All oral piercings affect your teeth and gums including smiley piercings, they constantly rub over the teeth and gums which can potentially cause damage from the moment you have it fitted. The chance of gum recession and damaged teeth increases over time. If you suffer from gum recession, gum disease, enamel wear, or other oral issues, you shouldn’t get an oral piercing as it will exacerbate the problem.

Can a tongue piercing damage your gums? – yes, the constant movement of the piercing over the gum tissue causes it to be worn away and irritated. 


  1. The piercing truth about tongue splitting and oral jewelry – JADA. VOLUME 143, ISSUE 7, P814, JULY 01, 2012. Available here:
  2. Dental and periodontal complications of lip and tongue piercing: prevalence and influencing factors. Volume57, Issue1. March 2012. Pages 71-78. Available here:
  3. Oral Piercing Jewelry – Science and Research. Available here:
  4. Hennequin-Hoenderdos NL, Slot DE, Van der Weijden GA. The incidence of complications associated with lip and/or tongue piercings: a systematic review. Int J Dent Hyg. 2016 Feb;14(1):62-73. doi: 10.1111/idh.12118. Epub 2015 Feb 17. PMID: 25690049. Available here:
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Written by Gareth Edwards

Co-Founder & GDG Dentist

Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons) MFDS (RCPS Glasgow) is GDG Co-Founder and Gum Disease Expert.

He is a practicing dentist based in Bournemouth, UK and has treated thousands of patients with gum-related diseases.

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