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Clinique Dentaire Delobel

Functional education

The role of the tongue

For many years, scientific studies have drawn attention to the role that the tongue plays in the positioning of the teeth and jaw.

However, the correction of the tongue is not something that is frequently undertaken, and therefore  orthodontics primarily relies on the movement of teeth using force applied to fixed braces. Recent research has shown that for treatment to be effective we should not rely solely on orthodontic devices, but should also focus on the role of the tongue. Dentists are more aware than ever that the positioning of the teeth is not only a result of anatomy but also a result of the other roles that the tongue and teeth have.

We are therefore able to systematically deduce that any dental abnormalities are a result of genetics (inherited), acquired factors (trauma, illness) or functional factors (thumb sucking, bad habits).

The tongue, which is comprised of 17 muscles, causes many dental anomalies. In the following we will see its importance in swallowing and breathing.

The development of children is also influenced by growth hormones that are primarily secreted during sleep. Rehabilitation should therefore also lead to a good night’s sleep.


This includes the swallowing of food or saliva. This act is repeated more than 2,500 times a day. Therefore, poor swallowing can explain the bad positioning of the teeth and poor development of the jaws. This is mainly due to the fact that a baby with no teeth swallows differently to a child or adult with developed sets of teeth.


Before teething, babies only drink. Their tongue is used to suck the milk and to swallow it. To do this the babies head must be supported so that the milk is directed to the back of the throat. The lips are then closed and the tip of the tongue rests behind them, between the gums.

However with the development of teeth, a child from about 8 years old closes the teeth to swallow and the tongue rests on the palate to help push the food back. This is adult swallowing.


A baby closes their lips and rests their tongue between the gums. Children and adults close their teeth and positions the tongue on the palate. It is possible to see if a child has retained infantile swallowing without looking inside their mouth, because they close their lips when swallowing.

If the child retains infantile swallowing:

       1. Their tongue rests between their incisors making it difficult to bite food (open bite problem)

2.      Their tongue does not stimulate the palate: it becomes narrow

3.      The tongue can push the upper teeth: the upper jaw and the teeth move forward

4.      The tongue can push on the bottom teeth: the teeth and lower jaw widen and move forward



Breathing is usually done through the nose with the tongue slightly raised in the mouth. However some people breathe through the mouth. These are usually people with nasal obstructions. Children who breathe with their mouths open can actually affect their treatment. This is because when a person breathes through their mouth, the tongue tends to drops down to allow airflow.

Nasal breathing can be encouraged with exercise.


Nasal breathing: mouth closed, tongue high in the mouth

Mouth breathing: mouth open, tongue behind lower incisors or between the teeth


If the person breathes through their mouth

1.      Their nose doesn’t work effectively and neither does the mouth

2.      They lose some of their sense of smell

3.      They may snore, leading to disturbed sleep

4.      Their mouth becomes dry, which can lead to diseases of the gums

The tongue may extend beyond the mouth, putting pressure on the teeth and jaws, resulting in anatomical abnormalities.