Most people spend their day not thinking about their tongue posture too much. But what if we told you that the positioning of your tongue is a factor that influences the structure of your face?
Letting your tongue hang aimlessly in your mouth could cause your jaw to shift. If it sets in its new position, you may even have to look for an oral surgeon in Riverdale – but it doesn’t have to go that far.
There is a simple way to correct your tongue posture. But to do that, we have to establish what poor tongue posture even means. Essentially, if your tongue isn’t resting against the roof of your mouth, particularly at the back – you’re doing it wrong. This position is the only one that won’t have a detrimental impact.
Ideally, we shouldn’t have a gap between the tongue and palate. But that’s exactly what happens to many people. Due to certain breathing issues, some find it easier to let their tongues simply float around the mouth cavity. Alternatively, they might keep just the tip of the tongue up against the front part of the palate.
Still, those kinds of improper tongue positions can have disastrous effects. They can either shift the lower jaw back or make the upper front teeth come forward into an overbite position.
Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent that from happening. Different exercises can encourage the tongue to stay in the correct position even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. But before we discuss corrective measures, let’s talk about the causes of improper oral posture.
Why Do Some People Have Improper Tongue Placement?
As we have established, most people don’t have much cause to think about the placement of their tongues. All the actions we tend to need them for are pretty much automatic.
When we eat, the tongue pushes the food around the mouth and back toward the esophagus. By the time we’re adults, speaking comes so naturally we hardly need to stop and consider the position of our tongues.
Because of that, most people don’t think about achieving and maintaining the correct tongue posture. We just do it – it’s as natural as breathing. But there’s the thing: to some people, even breathing is a challenge.
When we’re breathing correctly, through the nose, chances are that the tongue will rise to the roof of the mouth on its own. However, breathing issues can complicate matters.
If someone has a nasal irritation or deformation, or even just clogged sinuses, they’re more likely to breathe through their mouth. To do that, they would need their tongue out of the way.
So that’s how people let their tongue keep a single point of contact with the palate or completely drop. Still, making that small adjustment instead of fixing the underlying issue often makes matters worse.
Poor tongue posture can cause speech impediments, teeth grinding, an overbite, and other jaw issues. On top of that, breathing difficulties can also cause snoring and sleep apnea.
Besides, studies have shown that nasal breathing improves our oxygen levels and brain function. With that being said, let’s see how we can train ourselves to breathe through the nose while maintaining the correct tongue posture.
How to Practice Proper Tongue Posture Habits
As we have mentioned, there are several easy exercises we can do to train the tongue to remain in the correct position. The goal of these is to redirect tension from the chin and jaw joints to the roof of the mouth.
The first thing we can do to make sure the tongue is where it needs to be is simply hum the sound “n” or “ng.” Doing so should bring the entire length of the tongue flush against the roof of the mouth.
If we were to drop the lower jaw while making that sound, we would see the underside of the tongue. That’s the position we’re hoping to achieve here.
Tongue clicking is another way to force the muscle up against the palate. To begin with, we need to have the tip of the tongue already touching the roof of the mouth. From that point, sucking the air out should create a vacuum that will bring the back of the tongue up into the high part of the palate.
Releasing that vacuum is what creates the clicking sound. But really, what we’re after is the position the tongue has the moment before the sound comes out. So, the whole tongue is flush against the roof of the mouth but not pressing against the front teeth.
The next thing we can do to encourage proper tongue posture is swallowing a bit of water. Yes, it really is that easy.
The act of swallowing resets the tongue into its natural position. Leaning into that sensation and pushing the back of the tongue up should result in a corresponding upwards tension in the neck and temples.
That’s why people report an increase in the tone of their under chin area and facial structure when they start practicing proper oral posture.
But what happens when years of letting our tongues rest on our lower teeth change our facial structure?
Fixing the Consequences of Improper Tongue Posture
We’ve already mentioned that keeping the tongue in its proper place and pushing up further still may result in the feeling of tension in certain areas of the neck and skull. But why does that happen?
Well, unlike most other bones in the human body, the skull isn’t fixed in place until we’re about forty years old. As babies, our skulls are malleable, allowing us to come through the birth canal unscathed. The different sections of the skull then slowly fuse thanks to the fibrous joints called sutures.
Those sutures are the reasons our skulls remain malleable throughout most of our lives. So that’s why tongue placement can potentially alter our facial structure. Keeping the tongue down can draw the lower jaw back, exerting pressure on the jaw joints.
Conversely, pressing just the tip of the tongue against the front teeth can cause overbite or underbite issues.
Luckily, as long as we catch the problem on time, we can fix it with the simple exercises we’ve explained above. On the other hand, if the skull has already set, we can also consider oral surgery.
Depending on the defect we’re trying to correct, there are different procedures we might try. Maxillofacial surgeries target the maxilla section of the skull, so the central face, as well as the neck, jaw, and related soft tissues. We recommend visiting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_and_maxillofacial_surgery to learn more about any of those options.
Should You Go to an Oral Surgeon or a Regular Dentist?
Ultimately, if you believe that surgical procedures are your only option, you’ll have to take the matter up with an oral surgeon. They’ll be able to tell you if you need reconstructive or cosmetic surgery or just a dental device. Usually, though, most people don’t need any of those things once they realize the cause of the problem.
Practicing proper tongue posture can not only make us breathe through the nose again, but correct our facial shape as well. So try out the exercises we’ve mentioned. And, if you’ve noticed any other issues – such as an overbite or an uneven jaw – talk to your dentist about your options.
About The Author:
Maria S. Johnson, DDS, is an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. She teaches both in the undergraduate Doctor of Dental Medicine curriculum and the Advanced Education General Dentistry Residency.