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The 5 Problems Your Tongue Can Cause to Your Appearance and Health

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue”- Proverb 18:21

This proverb holds true on so many levels. When I spoke to my Rabbi, he shared that this Proverb had to do with speech, “Don’t talk ill about others and about yourself”. We all must watchfully consider the words that come out of our mouths because words can kill. As a myofunctional speech pathologist, my mind began to wander and connect this Proverb to the actual tongue.

I cannot agree more that Life and Death are in the power of the tongue, the actual muscle. The tongue is so overlooked and underrated. The tongue is a special kind of muscle called muscular hydrostatic (Harmon Courage, 2014). This means that it operates without any help from the rest of your skeletal structure like an elephant trunk or octopus tentacle (Harmon Courage, 2014). A term that may have been mentioned at your last dental or orthodontic visit is“Tongue Thrust”. It's a term used but hardly explained and the solution is rarely addressed.

What is Tongue Thrust?

Tongue thrust is a symptom and causes so much trouble to facial development. Tongue thrust is when the tongue is positioned forward in the mouth. Your tongue can press up against your teeth or between your teeth. Large tonsils and/or adenoids and chronic nasal inflammation can contribute to a tongue thrust and poor tongue posture. The inability to breathe through the nose can cause an individual to become a mouth breather. Breathing through the mouth often leads to poor tongue posture (Gotterm and Wilson, 2020). Overall the tongue is a very strong muscle and can have an effect on orthodontic treatment, jaw alignment, sleep disorders, speech, and swallowing.

Here are the 5 problems your tongue position can cause to your appearance and health:

1. Crooked Teeth

About 4 lbs. of pressure are exerted with each swallow and the average human swallows about 1,200 to 2,000 times every 24 hours (Frohlick, Thuer, & Ingerval, 1991). When the tongue presses against the teeth frequently it can push the teeth out of alignment (Frohlick, Thuer, & Ingerval, 1991) resulting in crooked teeth. Braces offer a great example of applied pressure. The pressure that braces slowly move the teeth back and reshape the mouth and teeth (Frohlick, Thuer, & Ingerval, 1991). Braces do not treat tongue thrust so only the bones and teeth will readjust. Remember the tongue operates without any help from skeletal structures. The tongue will still cause pressure to the teeth to move forward if it is not in its natural position. So when braces are removed the tongue continues to apply pressure against the teeth and push the teeth forward causing orthodontic relapse. Your tongue is a natural retainer when in the correct position; however, if tongue thrust is not treated you will have to wear a retainer for the rest of your life or suffer relapse (Fisher and Sutton, 2019).

2. Jaw Clenching and Teeth Grinding

The joint that holds your lower jaw to your skull is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). According to the TMJ Orofacial Pain Disorders Center, tongue position during swallowing and speaking can be part of the problem with TMJ. Whether improper placement causes a TMJ disorder, or the TMJ disorder results in problems with the tongue, the two are closely related. Studies report at least twice the prevalence in women then men for various factors including: pain, joint sounds, opening difficulty and teeth grinding. TMJ is responsible for opening and closing the mouth. The disorder can affect everything to your speech, your balance, and your bite. For standard production of each speech sound , the jaw must maintain proper height and position while allowing the lips and tongue to move independently. Jaw jutting or sliding will directly impact on the clarity of what is being said. If the jaw is not strong enough to support dissociated lip and tongue movements, speech intelligibility will be reduced significantly (Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson, 2007).

3. Sleep Problems

Good tongue muscles are crucial for “upper airway patency,” which relates to your ability to keep your airways open while you’re asleep. If the slow-twitch muscle fibers at the back of your tongue lack endurance, it will raise your risk of mouth breathing and sleep apnea (Why You Should Care About Your Tongue Muscles, 2020).Scalloped tongues are 70-80% predictive of Sleep Apnea. Patients with deviated swallows can adapt to incorrect jaw position when they are awake but as they fall asleep the muscles relax and the airway collapses. This results in snoring or Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) or Sleep Apnea (Why You Should Care About Your Tongue Muscles, 2020). Sleep apnea in children leads to ADD, ADHD, Behavioral Disorders and decreased intellectual performance. Sleep apnea negatively affects every system in our body.

4. Digestive Issues

The tongue plays a lead role in the proper swallowing technique. When a person swallows improperly air is swallowed leading to digestive issues such as frequent stomach aches and acid reflux (Fisher and Sutton, 2019). When the tongue is improperly positioned such as having a tongue thrust it does not activate the vagus nerve which is responsible for breathing and digestion. According to the Mayo Clinic, conditions/gastroparesis/symptoms-causes/syc-2035578, When the vagus nerve is functioning properly, the gag reflex is diminished, the stomach is calm, heart rate is slow, and breathing is normal.

5. Speech Problems

I saved explanation of speech problems for last because the position of tongue and jaw affect speech sounds. When the tongue is thrusted forward it impacts the jaw joint causing instability. Speech sounds specific to tongue thrust is a frontal and lateral lisp (s,z, sh, zh), rounded and vowelized /r/. (a wound the wald (around the world)) as well as distort vowel sounds. Therefore reducing speech intelligibility significantly (Rosenfeld-Johnson, 2007).

TASL Speech Therapy Consultants Can HELP!

Forget about shortcuts; skip the pharmaceutical alternatives. Your tongue, like the rest of your body, was made to move. Proper tongue posture helps maintain a wider palate. The ideal position for your tongue is pressed against the roof of your mouth rather than letting it “settle” at the bottom of your mouth. A thorough evaluation from TASL Speech Therapy Consultants specializing in Myofunctional Therapy is a good place to start. Myofunctional therapy is a non-surgical approach with the use of neurological re-education exercises to position the tongue and jaw in its proper position for correct function. We will evaluate and begin to review your options for treatment. We will get your tongue and jaw moving and resting in the right position for better appearance, jaw, swallowing, and speech.

Let’s Begin your journey to a better appearance and health. Schedule a Free Consultation

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