The Tongue and the Restless

19 Nov

Some of us grew up under constant correction from parents and teachers about our back posture: “sit up straight,” “shoulders back,” “stand tall;” But not me.

I was corrected for bad tongue posture.  I don’t mean cursing. Tongue posture has to do with where your tongue is positioned when it’s off duty from eating, speaking and kissing.  Many people are not aware of where their tongue rests.  You’re probably thinking, “Not aware?  Isn’t it obvious?  In my mouth!”   But where exactly?  Against your upper palate?  Against your lower palate?   Against your tile floor?

The reason this question is so important is because the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body and it can do an astonishing amount of physical damage even while resting.  I grew up with a tongue thrust problem, meaning that instead of placing my tongue on the roof of my mouth while resting it or while swallowing, I placed it against my front teeth which caused those teeth to jut forward into thirty-five thousand dollars worth of orthodontic work.

The prescribed orthodontia consisted of three years of sadistic medieval torture.  You may also have been subjected to this sort of violence as a child:  metal brackets fused to your teeth with industrial carpet glue and wires tightened using a method modeled after the stretch rack.  If the teeth weren’t shifting fast enough for the doctor to see them moving in real time, he’d band them together with teeny rubber bands.  (These bands were so small, my mom used to borrow mine to give our Shih Tzu a topknot).   And this was just the daytime torture.    The nighttime headgear compressed your jaw with such force you thought your teeth would shatter and your eyes would pop out of their sockets.

A contributing factor to my tongue thrusting was thumb sucking, a habit I had difficulty breaking until a late age, when I finally quit due to peer pressure after my friends made fun of me for driving with only one hand on the wheel.  Because of my continuous tongue thrust problem, I had to learn to reposition my tongue so it rested on the roof of my mouth just behind my teeth so my palate and not my teeth would absorb the force created by my tongue (and I’m not saying that tongue in cheek).

Under the guidance of Fran, my speech therapist, I practiced swallowing exercises for twenty minutes a day using my tongue to secure a pea to the roof of my mouth, and swallowing.   This exercise offered tremendous results in the form of severe bloating and gaseousness caused by a cache of undigested peas the size of Argentina that collected in my stomach.

Fran eventually gave up on “Mission Top Palate” and taught me instead to rest my tongue on my lower teeth (that way, over time my bottom teeth would also push forward and she and my orthodontist could run off together to a deluxe retirement Villa in Cabo).

I share this story not in the name of self-humiliation, but education.  My advice to readers is to be aware of where you rest your tongue when you relax and when you swallow.   Habits can change due to aging, sleeping, etc., and as an adult you don’t want to reverse years of orthodontic work like I did—even if your Shih Tzu wears a topknot.

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37 Responses to “The Tongue and the Restless”

  1. Paprika Furstenburg November 19, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Wow! It’s like we were twins. I had the exact same problem only I was forced to hold a small oyster cracker to the roof of my mouth.

    Apparently we also went to the same orthodontist because mine had a major fixation with rubber bands. I had all different sizes in my mouth in all sorts of places. In 8th grade gym, I got hit in the face with a ball. My glasses broke and when I opened my mouth to yowl in pain, rubber bands shot out of my mouth like fireworks. Good times!

    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 8:41 am #

      Poor Paprika. I feel your pain. I’m guessing to this day you take your chowder without oyster crackers.

  2. nursemommylaughs November 19, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Excellent information. I’m glad your friends got you back on the “10 and 2” so you could have that glam smile you have today! I recently have developed the grinding of my teeth when my children whine. I may have to get bite guards or muzzles…it’s a toss up.

  3. on thehomefrontandbeyond November 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    good if unusual advice

  4. Carrie Rubin November 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    “These bands were so small, my mom used to borrow mine to give our Shih Tzu a topknot.”—Great line!

    Yep, thumb sucking has inflated the wallets of many orthodontists. Think of the vacations your orthodontist took at your expense (or that of your parents…)

  5. G M Barlean November 19, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Wow. That is really interesting. I didn’t even realize it was normal to “rest” my tongue on my top pallet. Every time I noticed I was doing it, I thought, “wow, I’m so stressed out even my tongue can’t relax!” It would seem gravity would let my tongue loll on the bottom of my mouth. Go figure. My tongue is in an ok place. Whew!

  6. Burns the Fire November 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    My dentist tells me that when she works on her patients, she spends more time and energy wrangling their tongues then she spends doing the actual work. A mighty force to be reckoned with!

    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      I believe it. My hygienist wraps mine in a little tongue hammock when she needs to take a look around my mouth.

  7. Perfecting Motherhood November 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    My 4-year old has sucked his thumb since he was in the womb and it’s changed the shape of his palate. I just hope he stops before he gets his permanent teeth. It’s a terrible habit but at the same time, he was a pro at nursing, unlike his big brother, who needed to be taught. You can’t have it all!

    • morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer November 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

      Does tongue thrust have anything to do with pitching a softball? Or is that a different kind of thrusting?

    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      You must have some great baby sonogram photos!

      • Perfecting Motherhood November 20, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

        None of them sucking his thumb but he was sucking it right out of the womb and hasn’t stopped since then. The pediatrician told me babies like that suck their thumb as soon as they discover it in utero. I tried substituting it with a pacifier so we could stop the habit early on, but he never went for it!

      • Main Street Musings Blog November 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        My kids never took a pacifier either. They wanted the real thing.

  8. Debbie November 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    I was blessed with straight teeth, but many of my friends had to wear braces. You’ve described the torture well. Remind me to thank my parents for not foisting that upon me — oh, and my dentist, who surely did not recommend it!

    • Lou and Kitty November 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

      Apropos of your mouth saga, I thought of Kitty coming from Slovakia and growing up as she spoke with tongue in Czech.


    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      You are lucky. I felt fortunate that my oldest daughter didn’t need braces. I thank her for our last summer vacation.

  9. Shalagh Hogan November 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    And I was reminded of the two “occurrences” concerning my mouth. My lisp in need of a speech therapist and my crooked teeth in need of an Orthodontist. Because it seems I wasn’t worth the money. Thanks for bringing those painful memories up Lisa, Calling my therapist now..Does it count that I think we are nice people?

    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      Oh gosh, my musings are aimed to bring pleasure, not pain! Now I’m calling my therapist! P.S. Nice counts the most. 🙂

  10. funnysister November 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    OK, this is weirdly timed. Sometimes it does seem like my tongue isn’t quite in the right spot! So, when I am not focused on which nostril I’m breathing through….I’ll concentrate on tongue awareness.

  11. Audubon Ron November 19, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Now hold on, while singing the technique is to place your tongue against the lower teeth.

    Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. (I never understood why anyone would even consider throwing out a baby, but then again, I’m a redneck. What do I know?)

  12. earthriderjudyberman November 19, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    If I can’t sleep tonight, you’ll know why. I’ll be too busy focused on where my tongue is resting. You had the teeth torture. I had the eye torture. As the result of a lazy eye muscle, I had to wear a patch, do eye exercizes, and look thru a view finder.
    All in all, after reading your experience, I got off easy.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Lisa.

    • Main Street Musings Blog November 20, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      Interesting. I had never heard of eye exercises, but that makes sense. Happy Thanksgiving to you too! Hope your holiday is restful, for you and your tongue. 😉

  13. The Laughing Mom November 19, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    Me too! I remember my retainer had a hole in the top for me to rest my tongue there so I didn’t re-buck my teeth after having braces. Look at my Laughing Mom avatar really closely – the illustrator gave me buck teeth!!!! I guess it didn’t work.

  14. Elliot November 20, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    Well if nothing else, your orthodontist made some money. One mans misery and all that. Some useful advice I shall try to remember as my son gets older.

  15. gabrielablandy November 20, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    I used to suck my thumb – and had to undergo the torture of braces too: I’d pushed my front teeth out so much that there was a gap between them. The only way I managed to give up sucking my thumb was to wear a sock over my hand!!

  16. carolynpageabc November 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    This was very amusing and gave me quite a smile; especially the ‘Shih-Tzu’ topknot…!
    Naturally, it is also very sad and many must identify with you. I found myself checking the resting position of my tongue and am very pleased to note my ‘upper palate’ position (my money is therefore safe)..! 😉

  17. Asher January 11, 2019 at 11:50 am #

    I suffered from depression and my tongue felt tense all the time…Any advice on how to relax my tongue…?

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