smiley piercingShare on Pinterest
Photo: Tony C French | Getty Images

A smiley piercing goes through your frenulum, the small piece of skin connecting your upper lip to your upper gum. This piercing is relatively invisible until you smile — hence the name “smiley piercing.”

Your piercer can determine whether you’re a candidate for this type of piercing. Some limitations include having braces or too small of a frenulum.

Other disqualifying oral conditions may include gum disease, dental sealants, and periodontitis.

Jewelry types you can use for this type of piercing include a:

Captive bead ring. This type of jewelry is commonly used for a brand-new smiley piercing. This piece is circular in shape and closes with one small bead.

Circular barbell. You may also be able to use a circular barbell for your initial jewelry. This piece has a horseshoe shape with a bead on each end to keep it in place.

Seamless ring (with or without adornment). This seamless ring connects without using a bead to hold it in place. When the piercing has completely healed, you can swap a standard seamless ring out for a seamless ring that has added adornments.

Your piercer will also go over material options available for your jewelry, including:

Surgical titanium. Your piercer may suggest titanium if you have sensitive skin.

Surgical stainless steel. Although surgical steel is considered hypoallergenic, irritation is still a possibility.

Niobium. This is another hypoallergenic material that’s unlikely to corrode.

Gold. If you’d rather go with gold, quality is important. Stick to 14-karat yellow or white gold during the healing process. Gold higher than 18 karats isn’t as durable, and gold-plated jewelry can lead to infections and allergic reactions.

According to Authority Tattoo, this piercing typically costs between $30 and $90. Some shops charge separately for the jewelry.

You’ll also need to factor in a tip for your piercer — at least 20 percent is standard.

You should also ask your piercer about costs related to aftercare, such as saline solution.

If your piercer determines that you’re a good candidate for this piercing, they’ll begin the process. The actual procedure is relatively quick, lasting a few minutes at most.

Here’s what to expect:

  1. Your piercer will give you an antibacterial solution to rinse out your mouth.
  2. After your mouth is clean, they’ll pull your upper lip back to expose the frenulum.
  3. The piercing is then made with a sterile needle.
  4. They’ll thread the jewelry through the hole, and, if needed, screw any applicable beads on to hold the jewelry in place.

Pain is possible with all piercings. Generally speaking, the fleshier the area, the less the piercing will hurt.

Your frenulum has to be thick enough to support the jewelry, but the piece of tissue is still rather small. Because of this, the piercing may hurt a bit more than a lip or earlobe piercing.

Your individual pain tolerance is also a factor. The good news is that the needle portion of the procedure only lasts a few seconds, so it should be over after a deep inhale and exhale.

Smiley piercings are in an extremely sensitive area. If pierced incorrectly or improperly cared for, you may end up with some dangerous and uncomfortable side effects.

Talk to your piercer about the following risks:

Gum damage. If your piercing is incorrectly placed, it may cause gum recession over time. Jewelry that sits too high on your gum line or otherwise rubs against your gums can also lead to gum damage.

Enamel damage. Large beads and other attachments on the jewelry can knock against your teeth, potentially damaging the enamel.

Infection. Your mouth is a natural breeding-ground for bacteria from eating and drinking. Bacteria can also be introduced via kissing, smoking, and other oral activities. Infection is possible if bacteria becomes trapped in the piercing site.

Rejection. If your body views the jewelry as an intruder, it may respond by building up more skin tissue to push the piercing out of the frenulum.

A dermal piercing typically heals within 4 to 12 weeks. If you don’t follow your piercer’s aftercare recommendations, your piercing may take longer to heal.

You may experience mild pain and swelling during the first couple of weeks. These symptoms will gradually decrease as the healing process continues.

They usually aren’t cause for concern unless your piercing is also leaking yellow or green pus, hot to the touch, or showing other signs of infection.

Proper cleaning and care are crucial to the success of your smiley piercing.

During the healing process, do:

  • Clean your mouth with sea salt or saline solution twice a day.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after eating.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Use a mild toothpaste flavor (think bubblegum instead of mint).
  • Use an alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Take it easy on talking for the first couple of days.

At the same time, don’t:

  • Touch the piercing or play with the jewelry.
  • Drink alcohol.
  • Smoke.
  • Use alcohol-containing rinses or toothpastes.
  • Eat foods that are hot or spicy.
  • Eat highly acidic foods, such as tomatoes.
  • Eat overly hard or crunchy foods.
  • Kiss. This can mess with the jewelry and introduce new bacteria into the wound.
  • Engage in activities that can move the jewelry around, such as playing certain instruments.

While mild pain and swelling is normal for any new piercing, other symptoms could indicate more severe health concerns.

See your piercer if you experience any of the following signs of infection or rejection:

  • redness that extends beyond the piercing site
  • severe pain
  • severe swelling
  • yellow or green discharge
  • foul odor

With rejection, you may also experience:

  • jewelry displacement
  • jewelry that hangs or droops
  • complete jewelry dislodgement

Due to the delicate placement, smiley piercings usually don’t last as long as external body piercings. However, there isn’t a clear-cut timeline.

Some anecdotal reports online say that the piercing may last about a year, while others have had far longer success.

Proper care can go a long way, but it isn’t a guarantee that your piercing will last long-term.

You shouldn’t change your jewelry until the piercing has completely healed (about three months). Your piercer can confirm whether it’s safe to swap out your jewelry. They may even be able to do it for you.

If you do decide to change your jewelry yourself, carefully follow these steps:

  1. Rinse your mouth with a sea salt or saline solution.
  2. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching the area.
  3. Carefully unscrew your existing jewelry.
  4. Quickly, but gently, thread the new jewelry through the hole.
  5. Screw any applicable beads on or otherwise close the jewelry.
  6. Rinse your mouth again with a sea salt or saline solution.

If you change your mind halfway through the healing process, talk to your piercer about removing your jewelry. They can determine whether it’s safe to remove before the healing process is complete.

If they do remove your jewelry, you must continue cleaning the area until your frenulum has completely healed.

The process is much easier if you want to retire the piercing after it’s long been healed. Simply take out your jewelry, and the hole will close up on its own.

Deciding on a smiley piercing can be an exciting time, but you’ll want to talk to a couple of reputable piercers first. In addition to quoting prices, they can determine whether your frenulum tissue is able to support this piercing.

If your frenulum is too thin, your piercer may be able to suggest another piercing that you’ll be happier with in the long run.

Your piercer should be your go-to authority for questions about healing time, unusual side effects, and any other concerns you may have.