While they might not be as common (or as noticeable) as tattoos on other parts of the body, tongue tattoos are definitely a thing.
If you’re considering one, you’ve come to the right place. Before you open wide and say “Ah,” read on to get answers to all your questions about tongue tattoos.
Generally speaking, tongue tattoos pose the same risks as tattoos on any other part of the body, so getting your tongue tattooed might not necessarily be any riskier.
They do come with one unique risk due to their placement: potential damage to your taste buds. (More on that below.)
Surprisingly, not that much!
While personal pain tolerance can vary quite a bit from person to person, the consensus seems to be that tongue tattoos rank pretty low on the pain scale compared with other tattoos.
Most people report numbness, tingling, or a tickling sensation rather than actual pain.
The process depends on the professional doing it.
Not all artists are willing to do tongue tattoos, and those who do may use different techniques. Some use electric tattoo needles, but others might prefer the stick poke method, which involves manually poking ink into your flesh in a series of dots to create the design.
Here’s what you can typically expect:
- Once you’ve selected your design, the artist will check your tongue to make sure you’re a good candidate for a tongue tattoo.
- If you have any open sores, they’ll likely ask you to wait until those heal. You’ll also need to remove any current piercings before getting your tongue tattooed.
- Next, the artist will clean the area to reduce the amount of bacteria. This might involve giving you a mouthwash to rinse with, wiping down your tongue with gauze soaked in an antibacterial solution, or both.
- After patting your tongue dry, they’ll use either a clamp or their gloved hand to keep your tongue out of your mouth and steady during the procedure.
- They’ll then dab your tongue with gauze throughout the procedure to keep it free of excess ink and blood.
Healing time for a tongue tattoo typically only takes around 2 to 3 weeks. If you have other tattoos, you’ll know this isn’t very long at all.
Wounds in the oral cavity
Oral cavity wounds are also less prone to scarring than skin wounds. That said, you’ll probably notice a bit of crusting while your tongue tattoo heals.
There’s not much to do in the way of aftercare for a tongue tattoo. Since it’s in your mouth, you can’t exactly slather on any ointment, after all.
Practicing good hygiene is the best thing you can do. While this won’t extend the life of your tongue ink, it will help reduce your risk of infection.
Good oral hygiene involves brushing at least twice daily, flossing daily, and using mouthwash to keep bacteria at bay.
Be warned, though: Toothpaste, mouthwash, and certain foods (think: spicy, citrusy, or acidic) might sting while your tongue is healing.
Like all tattoos, tongue tattoos carry some level of risk. But before getting into those more general risks, let’s talk about the question most people have about tongue tattoos: Can they damage your taste buds?
“YES! A tongue tattoo has an effect on the taste buds,” says Jonelle Anamelechi, DDS, MSPH, a board certified pediatric dentist in the D.C. area.
“How? Your taste buds have taste receptor cells, designed for different types of taste experiences, like bitter, sour, salty, or sweet. A tattoo punctures, damages, and sometimes kills those cells, changing your perception of taste.”
A tongue tat may also pose a higher risk of infection, due to the high levels of bacteria in the mouth, Anamelechi goes on to explain.
An infected tongue tattoo can cause symptoms, like:
- significant pain
There’s also the risk of contracting a bloodborne infection, like tetanus, hepatitis C, or HIV, from unsterile or reused equipment.
An allergic reaction to metals in the ink, or even the needles used, is also a possibility.
All that said, choosing a reputable studio and tattoo artist who follows proper health and safety practices can significantly reduce these risks. Practicing good oral hygiene and following any aftercare instructions can help, too.
It’s hard to nail down an exact cost, since so few tattoo artists do tongue tattoos.
According to word on the internet, you can expect to pay about what you’d pay for an inner lip tattoo, which averages between $50 and $125.
Factors, like your location, the artist’s experience, and the complexity of the design, can affect the cost.
Not long at all. Depending on the method and type of ink used, tongue tattoos usually only last from a couple of weeks to several months.
The same factors that help tongue tattoos heal so quickly also make them pretty short-lived. Along with the quick cell turnover, the saliva that keeps your tongue wet contains enzymes and acids that help break down your food, and, unfortunately, your new ink.
Regular touch-ups can extend the life of a tongue tattoo. Just keep in mind that this costs more money, and it can subject your tongue and taste buds to more damage.
Potential damage to taste buds aside, most tattoo artists just don’t consider tongue tattoos worth their time or your money.
The tight quarters and type of tissue on your tongue limits your design options, and most tongue tattoos will fade by the time they’re fully healed.
If you still want a tongue tattoo, it’s always best to do a little research first. Doing your homework before getting any tattoo can help you find a clean studio and experienced artist who follows stringent health and safety protocols to reduce your risk for an infection.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.