Tongue is king

The tongue is arguably the third most important muscle in the human body after the heart (responsible for circulation), the diaphragm (for breathing, and many other functions such as lymph flow of lymph)

There are 8 muscles within the tongue that connect it to important respiratory related muscles in the pharyngeal (airway) wall, floor of the mouth wall as well as the hyoid bone. Of the 12 cranial nerves, five are involved in innervating to the tongue.

  • Glossopharyngeal nerve
  • Vagus nerve
  • Hypoglossal nerve
  • Trigeminal nerve
  • Facial nerve nerve

To have almost half of the cranial nerves supplying the tongue is a good indicator of how important the brain regards the tongue. It also shows that if the tongue is crowded (due to small jaws and crowded teeth), it’s a great way to upset the central nervous system.

The tongue’s resting posture and muscle tone is incredibly important. If the tongue does not have the correct resting posture and muscle behaviour, it results in serious dysfunctions. The results can be debilitating for human health.


The ability to effectively manoeuvre the tongue within the mouth is critical to speech


  1. On average we swallow 2000 times per day. So we should do this correctly.
  2. Poor swallowing can result in aerophagia (swallowing of air) which increases risk of reflux in children.
  3. Poor jaw development
  4. Dental crowding and malocclusions


When the tongue is up and against the roof of the mouth, the pharynx is much more open thereby reducing airway resistance and making it easier to breathe using the diaphragm

Jaw Development

  1. The upper jaw is what we call an intramembranous bone that grows wider from the midline. Pressure from the underlying tongue guides and shapes the upper jaw development in a similar way that the growing brain develops the cranial bones.
  2. If a child has some sort of blockage in the nasal airways (such as enlarged turbinates, adenoids and tonsils), then the tongue is forced to adopt a low posture in order to facilitate mouth breathing. This commonly causes a ‘long face’ appearance (also known as adenoid facies).
  3. To make matters worse, the tongue can’t be up and forward against the roof of the mouth to guide upper jaw development. The cheek muscles (buccinators) overpower the tongue’s low position and the dental arch caves in. The upper jaw becomes underdeveloped thereby affecting:
    1. Facial appearance – significant asymmetries
    2. Dental crowding
    3. Poor breathing during the daytime and sleep
    4. Poor Sleep quality
    5. Risk of several signs and symptoms


  1. When the tongue is down for mouth breathing, the airway gets compromised and we common find patients have forward head posture (FHP). This puts pressure on the cervical spine and can result in subluxations as well as Dowinger’s hump. To keep balance, the pelvis has to rotate forward which puts extra pressure on the balls of the feet.
  2. Indeed the tongue is part of the ‘deep front line fascia’ that runs all the way to the feet. See this video here.

I hope from this you can understand the importance of the tongue for functional dental, airway and whole body health.