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There is a history of ritual tongue piercing in both Aztec and Maya cultures, with illustrations of priests piercing their tongue and then either drawing blood from it or passing rough cords, designed to inflict pain, through the hole. There is no evidence of permanent or long term tongue piercing in Aztec culture, however, despite the practice of many other permanent body modifications.
Permanent or long term piercing of the tongue is part of the resurgence of body piercing in contemporary society. The ready availability of high quality, surgical steel barbell style jewelery is associated with the emergence of this piercing in the 1980s. As with many contemporary body piercing innovations, the origin of this piercing is associated with Gauntlet, the first professional body piercing studio in the United States, formerly located in Los Angeles, California. Elayne Angel, the first person awarded the Master Piercer’s certificate by Jim Ward, body piercing pioneer and founder of Gauntlet, is commonly associated with the promotion and popularity of this piercing.
A common misconception is that since the mouth is dirty (see staphylococcus and streptococcus), tongue and oral piercings are more prone to infection and will take longer than other piercings to heal. While it is true that the human mouth, and foods can contain numerous bacteria, saliva is highly effective at both protecting from infection and promoting healing. For this reason, oral piercings tend to actually heal faster (4-6 weeks) than many other piercings, which can take many months depending on location, as long as appropriate care to prevent infection is taken. Mouthwash is frequently used to diminish chances of infection.
Popular names for tongue piercing include tongue ring, a misnomer, as only rarely are rings worn in tongue piercings. Paired, side-by-side tongue piercings are commonly referred to as venom piercings or less commonly viper bites, in reference to a snake’s fangs.