- Proper tongue posture refers to the optimal positioning of the tongue against the palate
- It promotes good oral and respiratory health, can influence facial growth, and can even help prevent some orthodontic issues
- Incorrect tongue positioning can lead to breathing difficulties, speech issues, and dental problems
What is Proper Tongue Posture?
Proper tongue posture, sometimes referred to in online communities as mewing (named after Dr. John Mew), is a term that denotes the optimal resting position of the tongue in the mouth.
When practicing proper tongue posture:
- The Tip of the Tongue: It should rest against the upper front teeth or just behind them, without exerting pressure on the teeth.
- The Body of the Tongue: This should be pressed against the roof of the mouth, fitting comfortably against the hard palate.
- Molar Regions: The back of the tongue should be elevated, making contact with the soft palate at the back.
- Lip Position: The lips should be gently closed, with the teeth either lightly touching or slightly apart.
When you swallow, the tongue should push up against the roof of the mouth, maintaining this position. This natural motion reinforces proper tongue posture.
Why Correct Tongue Resting Position is Important
Having the tongue positioned correctly in the mouth has several important implications:
- Facial Development: During childhood and adolescence, the constant pressure of the tongue against the roof of the mouth can influence facial growth, promoting forward growth of the maxilla (upper jaw). This can result in a well-defined facial structure, more prominent cheekbones, and a broader palate.
- Oral Health: Proper tongue posture can help in maintaining the alignment of teeth. The tongue’s pressure against the palate can counteract the inward force exerted by the cheeks, ensuring that the teeth remain straight.
- Breathing Benefits: With the tongue positioned against the roof of the mouth, the airway remains open, promoting nasal breathing. Breathing through the nose has numerous advantages, including better filtration of impurities, increased oxygen uptake, and improved humidity and temperature control of the inhaled air.
- Speech and Swallowing: Proper tongue positioning facilitates clearer pronunciation and reduces speech impediments related to tongue thrust. It also ensures efficient swallowing patterns.
- Orthodontic Implications: Incorrect tongue posture can lead to dental issues, such as open bites or other malocclusions. Proper tongue posture can thus prevent or mitigate such orthodontic problems.
- Postural Considerations: The tongue’s position can impact the alignment of the cervical spine and head posture. Proper tongue posture can, therefore, influence overall posture, potentially reducing related musculoskeletal discomforts.
Can Tongue Posture Affect Cheekbones and Facial Structure?
Absolutely. The position of the tongue can have a profound influence on facial development, especially during the formative years of childhood and adolescence.
- Pressure and Growth: The tongue is a strong muscle, and when it consistently rests against the palate (roof of the mouth), it exerts a steady pressure. This pressure can influence the direction of facial growth. Over time, consistent pressure against the palate promotes forward and lateral growth of the maxilla (upper jaw). As a result, the mid-face, including the cheekbones, becomes more pronounced.
- Maxilla Development: The maxilla is an integral part of the face. It not only forms the upper jaw but also the floor of the orbit (eye socket) and the lower section of the nasal cavity. A well-developed maxilla, therefore, contributes to well-defined cheekbones and can also positively influence the shape of the nose and eyes.
- Breathing Patterns: Proper tongue posture encourages nasal breathing, which is optimal for facial development. Mouth breathing can result in longer face syndrome, where the face appears elongated, and the cheekbones less pronounced.
Signs Your Tongue Posture is Causing Problems
If your tongue posture is incorrect, you might notice the following signs:
- Dental Issues: Teeth crowding, misalignment, or gaps can be a result of the tongue pushing against the teeth or not providing enough counter pressure to the forces of the cheeks.
- Facial Asymmetry: One side of the face may appear slightly different from the other due to uneven pressure exerted by the tongue.
- Swallowing Difficulties: If the tongue pushes forward against the teeth during swallowing (a condition known as tongue thrust), it indicates improper tongue posture.
- Speech Impediments: Incorrect tongue posture can lead to lisps or other speech issues.
- Mouth Breathing: If you often breathe through your mouth, especially at rest, it may be a sign of improper tongue posture blocking the airway.
- Recessed or Less Defined Jawline: The mandible (lower jaw) often follows the developmental pattern of the maxilla. If the maxilla is underdeveloped due to improper tongue posture, the mandible might also appear recessed.
- Sleep Issues: Problems like snoring or sleep apnea can arise due to the compromised airway space resulting from poor tongue posture.
- Postural Issues: A forward head posture or neck pain can sometimes be associated with incorrect tongue positioning.
Tongue Posture Exercise
Maintaining proper tongue posture might require conscious effort, especially if you’ve been holding your tongue in the wrong position for years.
Here are exercises to help you achieve and maintain the correct tongue posture:
- “Ng” Exercise: Say the word “sing” and hold the “ng” sound. You’ll notice that the back of your tongue presses against the upper part of your mouth. This is close to the ideal tongue posture. Repeat this exercise frequently to build awareness and muscle memory.
- Swallow Correctly: Practice swallowing while keeping the tip of your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. Ensure your tongue doesn’t push forward against your teeth when you swallow.
- The Smile and Swallow: Smile broadly, then swallow while keeping your teeth slightly apart and your lips together. This can help engage the correct tongue muscles.
What Causes Incorrect Tongue Posture?
Several factors can contribute to improper tongue posture, including:
- Thumb Sucking: Persistent thumb-sucking during childhood can push the tongue downward, leading to a habitual low resting position.
- Extended Bottle or Pacifier Use: Overusing bottles or pacifiers past infancy can have a similar effect as thumb-sucking, encouraging the tongue to rest in a lower position.
- Mouth Breathing: Conditions that force you to breathe through the mouth – such as chronic allergies, nasal congestion, or deviated septum – can cause the tongue to drop from the roof of the mouth.
- Tongue-Tie: This is a condition where the tissue connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too short, restricting its movement.
- Genetics: The size and shape of the mouth and palate can influence tongue posture. Some people naturally have a smaller oral cavity, which can make it challenging to maintain proper tongue position.
- Neurological or Developmental Issues: Certain conditions may impact muscle tone and coordination, affecting tongue posture.
- Poor Oral Habits: Habits like tongue thrusting (pushing the tongue against the teeth when swallowing) can disrupt proper tongue posture.
Issues Linked to Improper Tongue Posture
1. Speech Issues
- Lisp: Incorrect tongue posture can contribute to speech impediments like lisping, where the tongue thrusts forward during speech, causing issues with pronouncing certain sounds, especially “s” and “z.”
- Articulation Issues: Children developing speech patterns while having improper tongue posture may have trouble articulating certain sounds clearly.
2. Malocclusion (Misaligned Teeth)
- Open Bite: Constant forward or downward thrusting of the tongue, especially during swallowing, can lead to an open bite where the front upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed.
- Overbite: In some cases, if the tongue rests too far back in the mouth, it may contribute to an overbite, where the upper front teeth overlap the bottom front teeth excessively.
- Spacing or Crowding: The tongue plays a role in guiding the alignment of teeth. When it constantly presses against teeth from an incorrect posture, it can lead to spacing issues or crowding over time.
How Improper Tongue Posture Is Treated
- Myofunctional Therapy
This is a specialized form of therapy that focuses on teaching individuals how to use their facial muscles properly, including achieving correct tongue posture. It involves a series of exercises that help to strengthen and coordinate the tongue and facial muscles.
- Speech Therapy
For those with speech impediments linked to tongue posture, speech therapy can be beneficial. Speech therapists will work with individuals to correct their tongue positioning during speech, which can help alleviate issues like lisping.
- Dental or Orthodontic Appliances
Devices like palatal expanders, tongue cribs, or retainers can be used to guide the teeth into the proper position and prevent the tongue from thrusting forward or lying too low in the mouth.
In extreme cases, especially for those with a tongue-tie, a simple surgical procedure called a frenectomy can be performed to release the tongue, allowing for better movement and positioning.
- Habit Breaking
For individuals who’ve developed habits like thumb-sucking, techniques and appliances may be used to break these habits and subsequently encourage proper tongue posture.
- Breathing Treatments
For those who mouth-breathe due to nasal obstructions, treatments to clear the nasal passages can help. This may include medications for allergies or even surgeries like adenoidectomy or tonsillectomy in some cases.
- Awareness and Manual Correction
Simple awareness of the issue and making a conscious effort to correct it can be beneficial. Over time, with regular conscious correction, proper tongue posture can become a habit.
The position of your tongue matters more than you might think. Proper tongue posture supports optimal oral and facial development, promotes better breathing, and can prevent a range of dental and health issues. By understanding the importance of correct tongue positioning and taking proactive steps through exercises and awareness, you can improve both the function and appearance of your oral-facial region. If you suspect issues with your tongue posture, consulting a dental or orthodontic professional is advisable. They can provide guidance on exercises, therapies, or interventions that can help in achieving and maintaining the correct posture.
This article is complete and was published on August 31, 2023, and last updated on August 31, 2023.