Short on Evidence, Dubious Therapies Turn to the Tongue

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People are turning to tongue exercise and surgery to improve their health. Evidence that they are helpful is scant.

WHEN KIMBERLY SHELDON was 47, she says made the biggest mistake of her life. That was in 2018, when she says that a dentist explained to her that cutting the tissue under her tongue would help her jaw pain, gum recession, and occasional headaches. Her issues, he said, could be due to the fact that the back of her tongue couldn’t reach the roof of her mouth. With a quick laser slice, a $600 charge, and some instruction on tongue exercises, he seemed confident that she would feel better soon after.

But, according to her account, the dentist didn’t explain the possible risks, which include nerve damage and scarring that can restrict the tongue. Sheldon only found out about the issues after she experienced them. Since then, she says, the effects have torn her life apart.

The idea that tongue position can contribute to health problems is not well-supported by research, but it’s edging towards the mainstream. Millions of people are watching YouTube videos about how the tongue allegedly influences the face and jaw, and booksvideoswebsites, and social media posts say that improper tongue position can contribute to a host of health issues — dental problems, sleep apnea, headaches, neck and back pain, and more. These ideas are especially becoming popular in dentistry — echoed by Colgate and a dental hygienists’ magazine. Some even claim that changing the tongue position can make people more attractive.

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