Has anyone ever asked you that question?
Most people look at me when I ask this question, pull their heads back, and say in my mouth?
Have you ever really given much thought to your tongue? What is its function really, or where is the tongue resting in your mouth at any given moment?
Before we go any further, honestly, where is it sitting in your mouth?
Is it floating in the middle of your mouth?
Is it resting on the floor of your mouth or pushing against your bottom teeth?
Is it resting on the roof of your mouth?
Is it resting on your upper front teeth?
The tongue is a mobile, muscular organ that lies within the mouth and partly extends into the throat. The tongue’s anatomy is complex; it involves interlacing muscles, nerves, and a blood supply.
Yes, your tongue is a muscle, and muscles throughout your body have a function and a network.
When one muscle is not functioning as it should, it can adversely affect nearby muscles, structures, and function. The tongue is no exception to this rule.
The tongue functions as part of the digestive system by facilitating the movement of food during chewing and swallowing. It is also covered by a number of taste buds, and there are several nerves and muscles in the tongue that help in transmitting signals to the brain that assist with taste, chewing, digestion, swallowing, speaking, and breathing.
The tongue is not just one muscle, it’s a conglomeration of eight separate muscles. Unlike other muscles, like the bicep, tongue muscles don’t develop around a supporting bone. Rather, they intertwine to create a flexible matrix, forming what is called a muscular hydrostat; this structure is similar to octopus tentacles or an elephant’s trunk.
Four muscles in the matrix called the extrinsic muscles, anchor the tongue to structures in the head and neck.
There are eight muscles of the tongue.
Four Intrinsic muscles of the tongue.
Superior longitudinal muscle.
Inferior longitudinal muscle.
4 Extrinsic muscles of the tongue
Their main function is altering the tongue’s position allowing forward, back, and side-to-side movement.
These muscles alter the shape of the tongue by lengthening and shortening it, curling and uncurling, and flattening and rounding its surface. This provides shape and helps facilitate speech, swallowing, and eating.
Is the tongue the strongest muscle in the body? The short answer is no!
The myth of the tongue’s strength comes from its amazing stamina.
Does your tongue ever get tired? When was the last time you felt your tongue was tired?
If you don’t have any disorders, the answer is probably never. The tongue’s perseverance is from the way it is made—with lots of muscles that can each perform the same task. That is why it doesn’t cause fatigue because of the redundancy in the muscle architecture. You simply activate different muscle fibers and get the same result.
Although it is a relatively small muscle, it can cause a range of problems if it is tethered to the floor of the mouth, pushes against the teeth when swallowing, or does not rest in the proper position.
What is the Proper Tongue Position?
Believe it or not, there’s actually a right way and a wrong way to rest your tongue. While this may sound silly or unimportant, the truth is that proper tongue posture can protect you from other whole-body concerns and illnesses.
When your mouth is at rest, your tongue should always be resting on the roof of your mouth, but it should not be pressing against any of your teeth. Your teeth should be slightly apart, and your lips should be closed.
Gravity pulls the tongue down, right? Actually, your tongue should be resting entirely up on the palate or roof of the mouth, not just the tip of the tongue, but the middle and back sections should be resting up too.
Your lips should be together, and your breathing should be through the nose 95-100% of the time.
Those are three of the four main goals of Myofunctional Therapy. You also want a proper swallow and muscle balance.
My tongue rested down lightly, touching my lower teeth for 50 years of my life, and I thought that was normal. They don’t teach us much about tongue position or function in dental hygiene school. I did not give the tongue much thought until I learned about myofunctional therapy when my daughter was having sleep issues.
Myofunctional therapy has been around since 1918 when the first article was published describing exercises for the development of the face and tongue muscles by Dr. Alfred Paul Rogers.
Myofunctional therapy, also called Orofacial Myology (I know it’s a mouthful), is neuromuscular re-education or repatterning of the oral and facial muscles that focus on targeted active and passive exercises to take patients from dysfunctional habits or muscle patterns to functional, healthy habits, with the goal of not just having the muscles in harmony, but the results from having muscles in balance to help with breathing, speaking, feeding, posture and sleep.
You may have noticed that many of those issues are very similar to the symptoms we see from people with tongue-tie issues. The main problem with a restricted tongue (tongue tie) is that it prevents proper tongue function, mobility, and proper tongue movement. Other muscles of the face and neck take over to compensate. So, you have similar issues with bad tongue habits that encourage a low tongue posture or poor tongue movement.
Before releasing a tongue tie on an older child or adult, it is critical that the patient is working with a myofunctional therapist and has performed exercises before the release. This will help the procedure and the aftercare goes more smoothly. Also, you will get better results with therapy + tongue-tie release than with just the release by itself. If you do not do exercises before and after, it can reattach or cause more issues because you have not changed or eliminated the bad habits.
Babies and toddlers can also be seen by a lactation consultant or speech or feeding therapist; whatever their struggles may be, collaboration with other healthcare providers will create the best results and healthier kiddos.
Risks of Bad Tongue Posture
Our tongues are incredibly strong and are connected to other areas outside of our mouths. This means that what you do with your tongue, including how you rest it, can affect the entire body. Bad tongue posture can have a negative effect on your eyes, nose, head, neck, shoulders, and of course, teeth. Improper tongue posture can contribute to or lead to:
- Crooked Teeth
- Mouth Breathing
- Clenching/ Grinding
- Tooth Damage
- Sleep Apnea
- TMJ Disorders / Jaw Pain
- Problems with Sleeping
- Bad Body Posture
- Bed Wetting
- Stomach Aches
Incorrect Tongue Posture
If you find yourself resting your tongue on the bottom of your mouth or up against your teeth, you’re one of the 50% of Americans that have incorrect tongue posture. Constant pressure on the teeth can cause teeth to shift, become crooked, create an open bite, and even result in habitual teeth grinding, which can create a whole host of problems on its own. Those who rest their tongues on the bottom of the mouth may suffer from more neck pain, jaw pain, and bad body posture overall. Additionally, bad tongue posture can change someone’s appearance and make a face take on a longer, flatter shape or cause the chin or forehead to jet forward.
Can You Fix Improper Tongue Posture?
Correct Tongue Posture
Proper tongue posture can protect your oral health as well as your overall health. Practicing proper tongue positioning can lead to decreased neck, jaw, or head pain, better breathing, and improved sleep.
What exactly is correct tongue posture?
Focus on resting your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth and about half an inch away from your teeth. To fully practice proper tongue posture, your lips should be closed, and your teeth separated ever so slightly.
Good news — you can work to improve your tongue posture. Here are a few tips and tricks for fixing bad tongue posture. The first step is to find the right spot where your tongue should rest.
You can do that in many ways here are three examples:
- Slide – Place the tip of your tongue on the back of your top teeth and then slide it backward. You should feel a spot where the roof of your mouth slopes upward. The area right before that slope is called the spot, it is the prime resting spot for the tip of the tongue.
- Say the letter N – When you say the letter N it not only puts the tip of the tongue up but also the middle.
- Smile clicks– The other way you can find your ideal tongue position is to smile really wide ( really cheesy smile wide). Put your tongue up and make a clicking sound. After a few clicks, you should feel your tongue rise to the roof of your mouth and hold it there without the click into its ideal resting position.
Why Tongue Position Matters and What to Do About It?
Incorrect oral posture can sometimes be successfully treated with the above measures. In the long run, however, it’s best to seek advice from a trusted professional.
Remember to keep an eye out for any other symptoms like teeth grinding, which potentially cause headaches, neck pain, and related issues.
Although it seems like a small thing, the position of your tongue at rest really does matter. When it’s not in the ideal position, it can lead to the issues listed above as well as other more serious health concerns.
There are also simple exercises you can do to get into better habits and “train” your tongue to sit in the right place, and these may be enough. Just make sure not to ignore it because it can cause problems over time.
Like any habit, don’t expect your tongue posture to change overnight. Keep practicing and remind yourself to consciously rest your tongue in that ideal position. Over time, muscle memory will replace bad, old posture habits with new, proper positioning.
- Awareness is key – try to get a better sense of your oral posture throughout the day. Where is your tongue usually situated? Is it pressing against your front teeth or lying passively on the floor of your mouth?
- Breathing – While monitoring your tongue’s position, also take note of your breathing. Are your lips frequently open? If so, you’re probably breathing through your mouth, and this is often a sign of poor tongue posture.
If your tongue or your child’s tongue is resting down, you can not touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue when opened as wide as you can, or you have any symptoms or concerns about open mouth posture or mouth breathing, give us a call at 815-922-1288.
Or click the link below to schedule a free discovery Q & A session.