Can you eat without a tongue?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you eat without a tongue?” and discuss how to swallow food without a tongue?

Can you eat without a tongue?

Yes, you can eat without a tongue. If a person is born without a tongue (a rare condition called aglossia), they may still eat very effectively. It’s a bit more difficult since the food moves about in your mouth as you’re chewing and you have to swallow using your tongue. 

The term aglossia refers to the congenital absence of the entire tongue, whereas microglossia and hypoglossia refer to abnormal smallness of the tongue. As the tongue plays an important role in facial growth, dentofacial deformities, particularly affecting the mandible, are usually observed. Thyroid dysfunction was also recently associated with aglossia (2).

Some individuals, on the other hand, use prostheses to swallow and even utter certain phrases, while others just learn to funnel the device down their throat. It takes some time to get used to, but once you do, it’s second nature.

You use your tongue to manipulate the food you eat. To put it bluntly, it isn’t ready to be shoved down your throat yet. Birds are a good illustration. The tongues of birds are often fixed. Little upward and downward motions are the norm, and they seldom go beyond the mouth. 

These unusual head and beak motions and forms demonstrate how a bird maneuvers food into its throat and stomach before swallowing it. Birds like the Pelican, which grab fish out of the water and just pour it down their throats, are a good illustration of this.

Crocodiles are another good illustration. Their speech is mostly useless to them. They savagely savage their victim with their teeth. Tear open the skin with your bare hands. Suck in the food by jerking their head backward until it’s in the right posture.

In addition, there are instances of fish, turtles, hippos, and tongueless humans. While just one person has a tongue. As you would expect, the tongue plays a relatively little function in the food-eating process of all of these species. 

Using gravity and body motions as a replacement is a reasonable option. As an alternative, you may fill your mouth to the brim with so much food that it needs to be swallowed. You may take a look at an elephant as an extreme example. If you don’t have a tongue, you may be able to force food down your throat and swallow it instead.

Sucking on food without the use of a tongue?

The tongue is a critical structure in systematic orofacial movements such as chewing, swallowing, respiration, and speech. During chewing and swallowing, the tongue contributes to the formation, placement, maintenance, and propulsion of a bolus, with saliva, into the oropharynx. Furthermore, propulsion of a bolus into the oropharynx by the tongue during the final stage of chewing is essential to normal initiation of a naturally evoked swallowing reflex. Once the swallowing reflex is initiated, retraction of the tongue muscles can also help in moving the bolus into the esophagus through the upper esophageal sphincter (1).

Complete aglossia (when the person is born without tongue) is a condition that is practically incompatible with life. Because nourishment is not possible without the suckling reflex, these patients seldom live longer than 3 days. Many cases may have gone unreported because infants did not survive until a diagnosis was made. Maternal instinct has been responsible for a few of those who survived. Besides the fundamental functions of speech, mastication, and swallowing, the tongue also has an important role in the growth of jaws, particularly of the mandible, and in the prevention of malocclusion (2).

While working on an idea for an extraterrestrial race that doesn’t utilize the tongue, I came into a problem: It’s very hard to swallow food without choking if you don’t have a tongue to provide the necessary maneuverability and suction. For the following reasons, I’m certain that a jawed vertebrate doesn’t need a tongue to eat:

Like other vertebrates, the extraterrestrial has a gnasher-like jaw structure (think dogs, not snakes; the jaw is not split and cannot move independently to walk food down the esophagus like snakes do)

If you could move your upper and lower lips as freely as your fingers, but they were separated in the center by a cupid’s bow, you would have an extraterrestrial with bifurcated lips (providing more moving parts for extra dexterity)

It takes a long time for the alien to finish chewing its meal before it is transferred to the crop/gizzard for further pulverization.

  • The extraterrestrial is IMPOSSIBLE for human.
  • Having a second set of teeth (although a dexterous, prolapsing esophagus would be okay)
  • Invertebrates/insects with external manipulators have an open jaw matrix.
  • However, it’s possible that the visitor may be extraterrestrial.

Close its airway when eating or have an unintegrated airway to the esophageal tract (In other words the airway does not go anywhere near the mouth)

  • Have a strange esophagus (such as being able to close, prolapse, or tighten in select areas and not others)
  • Or any alternative option that doesn’t violate any of the limits I’ve set in place, such as not having a tongue.

Swallowing strategies that differ from one another:

  • As soon as you’ve had food between your teeth, raise your neck and let gravity do the work for you. Your throat muscles will then take over and break down the food for you. Please refrain from using your tongue!
  • Acids within the creature’s mouth transform food into gas or liquid, enabling it to pass through its specialized digestive system. I doubt this occurs on Earth. It is also possible to use this as a weapon against your adversaries (via spit or bite). However, this may be in violation of your third bullet point.

Although not precisely like a starfish, some animals consume with their stomachs directly, the secondary jaw is a similar analogy.

However, it is described in the medical literature that the patient with congenital aglossia had minimal difficulty in swallowing a normal diet and only required large amounts of liquid to wash down solid food. She was able to touch her palate with the  tongue base and floor of the mouth. The patients with a reconstructed oral mound were able to eat a pureed soft diet. On cinegraphic barium evaluation, the patients with reconstruction who could swallow were all able to occlude the palate with the soft tissue mound. Those who could not touch the palate were unable to swallow. As was the case in the patient with aglossia, the patients with reconstruction required large amounts of liquid to wash down solid food (3).

Wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t have to breathe out of its mouth?

To prevent food from entering our airways and choking, the tongue performs one of its primary functions: pushing food down the throat. In contrast, if your airway wasn’t located in your throat, you wouldn’t have to worry about choking if anything became lodged there. 

Without a tongue, saliva-covered food would easily slip down the throat into the mouth without any assistance from the molars. Saliva that is more acidic or basic may be needed to break down food and make it easier to swallow. 

In a case described in the medical literature, the absence of the tongue of a patient was compensated by the fact that the floor of the mouth was smooth and its posterior portion could be elevated to contact the palate, which allowed her to develop speech and swallowing functions. On the other hand, her alveolar arches had not developed transversally, and the mandible had not grown in the anterior direction, probably because of lack of muscular stimulus between the alveolar arches. A number of dentofacial deformities were observed: drastic reduction of space between mandibular bodies, bilateral buccal crossbite, excessive overjet, deep overbite, and high palatal vault (2). This shows that the body has adapted itself during the patients growth and development, to the absence of a tongue. 

To learn more about eating without a tongue click here


In this article, we answered the question “Can you eat without a tongue?” and we discussed how to swallow food without a tongue?


  1. Hayashi, Hirokazu, et al. Biomechanics of human tongue movement during bolus compression and swallowing. J Oral Sci, 2013, 55, 191-198.
  2. Salles, Frederico, et al. Complete and isolated congenital aglossia: case report and treatment of sequelae using rapid prototyping models. Oral Surger Oral Med, Ora Pathol Oral Radiol Endodontol, 2008, 105, e41-e47.
  3. Allison, Glenn R., et al. Adaptive mechanisms of speech and swallowing after combined jaw and tongue reconstruction in long-term survivors. Am J Surger, 1987, 154, 419-422.