By Carol J. Mulvihill, B.S.N., R.N., C., Editor, Connections Quarterly
This article includes a collection of responses I received from professional college health colleagues in response to the following question I was asked regarding tongue piercings:
"I just read some info that you put out on piercings and was just wondering if you could answer one question for me. I am thinking about getting a tongue piercing and was wondering if after several years when I will most likely want to take it out, will the hole in my tongue close up completely or just shrink. I am asking because if it only shrinks, I am definitely going to have second thoughts about the whole ordeal. Thank you."
My sincere thanks to those colleagues on the SHS listserv who gave such interesting and substantive responses and to this question. My client is most appreciative. Responses were posted on the SHS listserv with acknowlegements and permission of the respondents. I thought Connections Quarterly readers and other web surfers might appreciate having the information posted on this permanent web site as well.
These are the responses:
I think that it depends on how long the person has had the barbell in place....longer in...scarring more permanent... also the rate at which a normal person heals is important. This question could relate to ear/other piercings too. In general, piercings below the chin need > 6 months to heal.
Just like with ear piercing, if the piercing is new and you leave the jewelry out, the holes will close...if the piercing is old, leaving the jewelry out won't matter much.
To try and answer your patient's piercing question...The hole may shrink in size or stay the same depending on how easily s/he heals... it is unlikely (though not impossible) that it will heal completely.
--Sjanna Johnston MD, UIUC
I recently did a presentation for our Family Medicine residents on tatoos and piercings--the hole will shrink but not completely heal over. This applies to all piercings.
--Janet L. H. Keating, M.D., Duke University Student Health Services
Greetings from the University of South Carolina. Piercing sources here in Columbia tell me that the tongue piercing does produce permanent changes in the tongue, but that the hole will definitely close up and does so relatively quickly. The new tissue will be scar tissue but will not be readily noticeable. There's no way to tell, however, exactly how long the healing will take. A craftsman at the local piercing parlor told me that he has had his tongue ring for over ten years, and that even now, if he removes it for any length of time, he has to go to a smaller gauge appliance or subject himself to a stretching. Hope this information helps.
--Gaye Betcher, N.P. at The USC
Carol, The answer to your question about tongue piercing is interesting. There are several factors in answering the question that would affect a permanent opening in the tongue past a tongue piercing:
In my experience here at Rutgers, the students I have seen, the piercing of the tongue seems to recover quickly from piercing and the hole closes. Also this type of piercing seems to be a temporary piercing that is in place for awhile then removed after a year or two.
To my knowledge, there is no long term studies or even case reports on this issue. Permanent openings after tongue piercing will occur with large gauge piercing jewelry, just as flesh tunnels placed in ear lobes, but I have not seen one in the 5 years I have been studying body art here at Rutgers.
Let me know if this info was helpful and if you get anything that differs, as this is my clinical opinion. Thanks.
--Walter Hewitt, Rutgers University, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I had a student last semester ...her tongue became infected and the bar had to be removed...I was amazed in 2 weeks ...one would have never known she had had a tongue bar...Hope this helps.
Rosetta M. Brown-Greaney RNC, MSN, Director/NP, Crandall Health Center, Alfred University
About tongue piercings, it is true that tongue piercings do not completely close up if they have completely healed before the tongue stud is removed. However, they do close up relatively quickly. If the tongue piercing is removed for even one night, it will partially close up as it is a muscle, which is very unlike ear piercings.
--Susan Garrett, UCSF
It should close up, but just like trachs, some close and some don't. If it doesn't close after about a year it should be evaluated for a surgical closure if it is causing problems.
--Celeste Kendrick, Director University Health Center, Texas A&M -Corpus Christi
Carol, let us know the answer because I have been saying that it will not close. I had been told that since it is muscle it becomes a permanent hole and needs to be flossed daily to remove decaying material. The source of this information was a presentation titled, "Oral Piercing and Ornamental Dentistry," at the ACHA meeting in San Diego in 1998. One of the speakers, Harriet F. Seldin, D.M.D., M.B.A. stated that tongue piercings do not close.
--Jean Benthien, Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA
My son has a tongue bar, and last summer he got a strep infection. Because strep goes from inconvenient to a serious infection very rapidly in people with pierced tongues, his MD advised him to remove the tongue bar. The hole closed up within 24 hours. After the infection cleared up and he decided to reinsert the tongue bar, AMA (Against Motherly Advice), he had to go and pay to have it repierced.
Martha Nance RPh, UNCG Student Health, Greensboro NC
Thanks go to our colleagues who shared their clinical expertise
and anecdotal insights on this question!
--Carol Mulvihill, Editor, Connections Quarterly
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