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How should your tongue sit in your mouth?

The position of the tongue in the mouth is an important but often overlooked aspect of oral health and function. How your tongue sits in your mouth can impact your ability to chew, swallow, speak, and breathe properly. It can also affect the health of your teeth and gums. But what is the proper tongue position? Where should your tongue rest when your mouth is closed and you are at rest? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence and recommendations from dentists and other experts.

What is tongue posture and why does it matter?

Tongue posture refers to the position of your tongue inside your mouth when your teeth are together and lips are closed. Good tongue posture involves keeping the tongue properly positioned against the roof of the mouth.

Proper tongue posture is important for a few key reasons:

  • It helps keep your airway open for proper breathing.
  • It allows you to swallow correctly by enabling the tongue to press against the roof of the mouth.
  • It permits proper jaw alignment and development.
  • It enables clear speech.
  • It may prevent teeth misalignment and dental complications like overbites.

Conversely, poor tongue posture can contribute to:

  • Obstructed airways and breathing problems.
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing.
  • Speech impairments like lisping.
  • Jaw misalignment and crooked teeth.
  • Mouth breathing which dries the mouth.

Proper tongue position is especially important for children as their mouths and jaws continue to develop. Establishing good tongue posture early on can prevent many orthodontic problems down the road.

What is considered improper tongue posture?

Improper tongue posture involves resting the tongue too low and forward in the mouth. Some specific examples of poor tongue posture include:

  • Resting the tongue between or against the teeth: This prevents the tongue from exerting upward pressure against the palate which can alter palate shape and dental alignment over time.
  • Letting the tongue lie low in the mouth: A low-lying tongue can block the airway and cause breathing problems, especially during sleep.
  • Pushing the tongue against or between the front teeth: This constant pressure against the front teeth can force them outward and create spacing issues.
  • Pressing the tongue against the bottom teeth: This can gradually shift the alignment of both the top and bottom rows of teeth.
  • Thrusting the tongue outward against the lips: Similar to pressing against the teeth, this can distort proper dental positioning over time.

In essence, any tongue posture that doesn’t involve the tongue gently resting against the roof of the mouth is usually considered incorrect.

Proper Tongue Position

So what is the proper position for the tongue according to dental experts and research?

Tongue rests against the roof of mouth

Most dentists and orthodontists recommend resting the tongue gently against the hard palate (roof) of the mouth. When you close your lips and teeth, your tongue should naturally rise to make soft, even contact with the hard palate.

This allows the tongue to provide light upward pressure against the palate to keep things properly aligned. It also keeps the tongue out of the way of the teeth so it doesn’t negatively impact their position.

A tongue resting against the roof of the mouth also opens up the airway and nasal breathing passages. This is the ideal posture for proper breathing.

Tongue tip behind front teeth

For ideal tongue position, the tip of the tongue should sit right behind the front upper teeth, along the bumpy ridge where the gums meet the teeth.

The middle and back of the tongue should press more firmly against the arched hard palate to provide that gentle upward pressure.

Allowing the tongue tip to rest between the teeth will likely cause spacing issues over time. Keeping it right behind the front teeth prevents this problem.

Entire tongue makes contact

For maximum benefit, the entire tongue should make soft contact with the roof of the mouth, not just the middle or back. Maintaining this broad but gentle contact helps promote proper oral function and development.

However, it’s also important not to press the tongue too forcefully against the palate as this risks distorting the shape of the mouth over time. The ideal posture involves a relaxed tongue resting naturally against the palate. Forcing or straining is not necessary or beneficial.

Tongue Posture and Alignment Issues

Proper tongue posture isn’t just for optimizing dental health and breathing. It can also help address existing dental alignment and spacing problems in both children and adults.

Can tongue posture affect teeth straightness?

Yes, tongue posture is intimately connected to dental alignment and crooked teeth. The tongue’s position directly impacts the position and spacing of both upper and lower teeth over time.

Improper tongue posture is actually a common cause of crooked teeth and alignment problems. Conversely, proper tongue posture may help naturally straighten teeth and resolve malocclusion issues.

How does tongue posture influence teeth position?

The tongue’s shape and position guides the growth and arrangement of the teeth during childhood. It provides a “template” that encourages the teeth to align properly within the jaws.

With ideal tongue posture, the tongue provides light but constant upward pressure against the palate as the adult teeth erupt and descend. This guides them into a properly spaced and aligned position.

Conversely, incorrect low tongue postures fail to provide this beneficial upward pressure. This allows the incoming teeth to erupt and position themselves in a more haphazard, crowded manner.

The tongue can also directly push teeth out of alignment if habitually thrust against the front teeth or pressed against the lower teeth. This constant abnormal pressure distorts positioning.

Can fixing tongue posture help straighten teeth?

Yes, establishing proper tongue posture can help naturally straighten teeth, especially mild to moderate crowding or spacing in children. By providing proper upward pressure against the palate, the tongue can guide incoming adult teeth into better alignment.

Improving tongue posture is also often recommended along with braces or aligners to help stabilize results after active orthodontic treatment. Maintaining proper tongue posture helps prevent teeth from shifting back out of position.

For adults, correcting tongue posture may also slowly improve existing minor spacing or crowding issues to a small degree. However, adults with significant misalignment will likely also need orthodontic treatment.

Proper swallowing helps improve tongue posture

Learning to swallow correctly with proper tongue posture can reinforce good tongue position the rest of the time. When you swallow correctly:

  • The tongue gently presses against the entire palate, sealing off the mouth from the throat.
  • The tongue tip remains behind the upper front teeth.
  • The tongue squeezes upward against the palate as the throat muscles contract.

Re-learning to swallow this way helps strengthen the tongue’s instinctive ability to properly position itself. This in turn promotes better posture and alignment.

How to Develop Ideal Tongue Posture

If you suspect your tongue posture could use improvement, there are steps you can take to help achieve proper position:

1. Increase awareness

Start paying closer attention to where your tongue sits in your mouth throughout the day. Notice when it slips out of position so you can consciously correct it.

Placing reminders around your home or office can help reinforce awareness. With time, ideal tongue posture will become habit.

2. Practice proper swallowing

Work on re-training your swallowing pattern as described earlier. Feel your entire tongue gently press upward against the roof of the mouth when you swallow. Do this while drinking water or saliva.

Try holding a small swallow of water in your mouth while pressing the tongue to the palate. Swallow slowly while holding this posture.

3. Close lips and teeth gently

Close your lips gently while keeping your teeth slightly apart. Feel your tongue rise into proper position against the roof of the mouth.

Practice keeping the lips lightly sealed while the tongue maintains contact with the palate for a few minutes at a time.

4. Say tongue twisters

Saying tongue twisters briefly forces proper tongue positioning and strengthens muscle memory. Try repeating phrases like:

  • Tip Top Tongue Twister
  • Red Leather, Yellow Leather
  • Unique New York

Work on emphasizing the letters T, N, and L which elevate the tongue.

5. Chew gum temporarily

Chewing a piece of sugarless gum for 5-10 minutes encourages tongue engagement and strength. Make sure to chew gently to avoid overworking the jaw muscles.

6. Stay hydrated

Drinking adequate water keeps the mouth from drying out which helps the tongue hold proper position against the palate. Aim for eight 8-oz glasses of water daily.

7. Ask your dentist or orthodontist

Ask your dental provider for any specific recommendations about improving your individual tongue posture and alignment. He or she may have personalized tips and exercises.

Proper Tongue Posture While Sleeping

Maintaining proper tongue posture overnight is also very important, though more challenging since you can’t consciously control tongue position during sleep. But there are still things that can help:

Sleep on your back

Sleeping on your back allows the tongue to rest in a neutral position. Sleeping on the side or stomach makes it more likely for the tongue to slide backward and down.

Avoid soft pillows

Overly soft, fluffy pillows tend to promote poor head and tongue positioning during sleep. Firmer, thinner pillows keep the head more level.

Watch alcohol intake before bed

Drinking alcohol before bed relaxes the tongue muscles making it more difficult to maintain optimal position overnight.

Use a mouth guard or tape

Special orthodontic devices like a custom tongue retaining mouth guard can hold the tongue in proper alignment at night. Tongue stabilization tape applied just behind the front teeth can also help.

Consider a chinstrap

A chinstrap worn at night prevents the mouth from falling open during sleep which helps keep the tongue in position against the palate.

Ask about special pillows or devices

Your dentist or orthodontist may be able to recommend pillows or oral appliances designed to promote proper tongue posture while you sleep.

Improve breathing issues

Treating problems like sleep apnea which interfere with breathing can make it easier to maintain correct tongue position overnight. Discuss sleep issues with your doctor.

When to Seek Help for Tongue Posture Problems

You should consider seeking professional dental advice if:

  • You notice your tongue frequently rests low in the mouth or presses against the teeth
  • Your teeth are becoming increasingly crowded or crooked
  • You experience frequent breathing, snoring, or sleep apnea issues
  • Your jaw clicks or pops frequently
  • You were advised in the past you have a tongue thrust problem
  • Your palate appears very narrow or uneven

A dentist or orthodontist can evaluate your individual situation and tongue posture issues. He or she can then offer specific recommendations and exercises to help improve tongue position and alignment.

Poor tongue posture that persists into adulthood is also more challenging to correct, making early intervention important.


Proper tongue posture involves training the tongue to rest gently against the roof of the mouth while lips are closed and teeth are slightly apart. This allows the tongue to provide light upward pressure against the palate which encourages ideal development and alignment.

Letting the tongue posture low or thrust forward against the teeth can contribute to breathing issues, speech problems, and crooked teeth or spacing. Improving tongue position both during the day and night can help address these issues and promote oral health.

While initially challenging, proper tongue posture can be re-learned at any age through self-correction, special exercises and oral appliances. But seeking advice from dental professionals is recommended for optimal results, especially when related to orthodontic treatment.