“Tongue in Cheek”

No, No, this is no joke! What you will read needs to be taken seriously, was just trying to get your attention. Of all the things that get us into trouble, number one is our tongue, usually from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. We’ve all been there, me the worst offender. But few realize (mostly orthodontist) that the tongue either contributes to excellent facial development and naturally aligned teeth or a malfunctioning tongue is the root cause of malocclusion, orthodontic relapse, poor facial development, dysfunctional breathing, and sleep apnea, In orthodontics, the tongue is an unruly monster with forces way beyond the threshold of tooth movement.

Let’s start from the beginning at birth. All newborns should breathe through their noses with their mouths closed. That’s all, no exceptions. If nursing is difficult, the tongue is usually the culprit. Tongue-tie prevents proper mobility and position of the tongue, so mothers, latching problems need to be addressed early because so much of oral/facial development depends on at least 6 months of nursing without bottle feeding with poorly designed nipples. Malocclusions begin at birth and premature babies begin life with a number of disadvantages.

Noisy breathing with mouth open is a sure sign of trouble ahead and no child should snore, if so, they are not breathing or sleeping properly. It will be a big deal sooner than realized since their developing brain is not getting the oxygen saturation needed. Proper sleep with functional breathing is the key to health. If the tongue is not positioned and postured in the roof of the mouth then the airway is compromised and airflow is turbulent, not laminar, and calm.

Tongue ties at the tip are easy to see how the lingual frenum limits the full range of motion, but it’s the back of the tongue that also needs to be free to lift up to the palate to the “kick Kate” position. There is a simple observed technique for evaluating the posterior tongue function. The tongue in its rightful place is the scaffolding for molding the upper jaw and floor of the nose. Most orthodontic problems result from the upper jaw is underdeveloped, the airway underdeveloped with not enough room for teeth.

With the tongue properly placed it is impossible to breathe through the mouth. Try it and you will be convinced. Mouth breathing causes low tongue posture, interrupting airflow and causing inflammation of tonsils, adenoids, and nasal mucosa, causing more airflow restriction and breathing effort and sleep interruption – a certain decline in you or your child’s health.

What I have shared with you is only the tip of the iceberg for orthodontic diagnosis and treatment, special for each individual. “Do it yourself orthodontics” (Smile Direct) is really the true meaning of tongue in cheek; a joke not to be taken seriously. It’s is just another charlatan’s scheme to make something worse and sell it cheaper to the unaware buyer. Make sure you know who is packing your parachute. No tongue in cheek!




John B. Harrison DDS, MSc


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