How Your Tongue Could Be Causing Your Headaches

Everyone has experienced a tension headache a time or two in their lives. According to Cleveland Clinic, 2 out of 3 adults have an occasional tension headache, while 3% of adults are chronic sufferers. This type of headache can be hard to treat if you can't narrow down the cause, especially if it's something unexpected like your tongue. 

You might not think too much about your tongue, but it plays several essential functions. According to the Journal of the South African Dental Association, your tongue facilitates food movement as you chew. Your tongue must also move in specific ways to create sounds for speech. Without it, you also wouldn't taste just how amazing your Aunt Sue's apple pie really is. However, when the tongue has improper placement in your mouth due to tongue-ties or improper tongue resting, it can cause several issues, such as headaches.

Through this article, you'll learn what tongue-ties and improper tongue resting are and what causes them. We'll also run you through the treatment options to help you find relief.

Tongue-tie can cause headaches

Your tongue has many moving parts; one of those parts is the thin strip of skin, known as the "frenulum," that adheres it to the floor of the mouth. People with tongue-tie have a shorter, thicker, or tighter band of tissue connecting their tongue to their mouth in the front or back, making articulating certain sounds or creating certain tongue movements difficult. For example, AirSync Integrative Dentistry notes that adults with this condition might find it hard to move their tongue side-to-side or stick it out. The tongue can also appear heart-shaped if the tip is tethered to the mouth. 

Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is present at birth, so it can't just happen over time or get better. The Cleveland Clinic also notes it can run in families, so if your parents have the problem, it's possible that you do, too. It is most commonly noticed in newborns having trouble latching on during breastfeeding, but it might go unnoticed until adulthood.

If tongue-tie is left untreated, the person might develop adaptive behaviors over time to compensate for the limited mobility of their tongue. This can affect how their tongue sits in their mouth, leading to jaw pain, headaches, and shoulder pain. The tongue is attached to the hyoid bone, a U-shaped bone at the middle of the neck and base of the mandible (per StatPearls). This condition can put tension on the hyoid, which is what leads to its painful symptoms.

Improper tongue resting linked with headaches, too

It's not common knowledge, but your tongue has a proper position in your mouth. In its ideal position, the tongue is pressed firmly against the roof of your mouth. Dentist Ron Baise told Healthline, "Your tongue should be touching the roof of your mouth when resting. It should not be touching the bottom of your mouth. The front tip of your tongue should be about half an inch higher than your front teeth." You'll also have your mouth closed and breathe through your nose. Not having the proper position of your tongue can affect the alignment of your teeth and wideness of the palate or cause an obstructed airway and tension headaches.

Improper tongue resting position typically stems from structural abnormalities in the mouth, like tongue-ties, enlarged tonsils, deviated septum, and structural abnormalities, which cause a person to breathe through their mouth, states Associates in Pediatric Therapy. It can also be caused by prolonged pacifier use, thumb sucking, and biting your nails. Those with improper tongue posture typically breathe through their mouth, have a tongue that rests low in the mouth, snore while sleeping, and cannot close their lips fully. Like tongue-tie, improper tongue placement adds tension to the hyoid bone, leading to headaches. The open mouth resting can also put tension on the jaw.

How to treat tongue-related headaches

Knowing what's causing your headache is only half the battle because you still need to find a way to get rid of it. 

Those with the tongue-tied condition might consider getting surgery called a frenotomy or frenuloplasty, according to the Mayo Clinic. The frenotomy is the easiest of the two procedures and requires sterile scissors to cut the frenulum to allow more tongue movement. It can be done in an office without the use of anesthesia. The frenuloplasty is needed for a thicker frenulum. It still requires snipping the frenulum but typically involves stitching the tongue closed. It's done in a hospital under general anesthesia.

Those with improper tongue placement might try using tongue posture exercises to help guide their tongue into the proper placement by placing the tip on the top of the mouth and breathing normally. Healthline also notes that the use of myofunctional therapy could be an option. This is the use of specific exercises to help improve your tongue position and nasal breathing. Exercises can include tongue touches, tongue presses, and uvula raises.