Tongue thrusting (also called reverse swallowing or immature swallow) is an orofacial muscular imbalance that causes the tongue to protrude through the anterior incisors during speech, swallowing, and in some cases when the tongue is at rest. It can cause serious orthodontic problems if unaddressed.
Among infants up to the age of 6 months, tongue thrusting is normal and no cause for concern. Around 6 months, most babies grow out of it, a sign that they’re ready to start eating baby food.
If tongue thrust continues past this point, and especially past the age of 4 years, it can cause serious orthodontic problems. This is one of the many reasons that children should be evaluated by an orthodontist at an early age.
On average, a person swallows 1,200 - 2,000 times a day, with each swallow placing about 4 pounds of pressure each time. If tongue thrusting is an issue, this continuous pressure can force the teeth out of alignment.
As a result, many people who tongue thrust suffer from open bites and other orthodontic problems. And in fact, if the tongue thrusting issue isn't addressed, it can sometimes even cause dental and orthodontic issues to relapse after treatment.
Tongue Thrust Treatment
There are two different ways to treat tongue thrusting. The first option is the placement of a nightguard or a more permanent dental appliance that can only be removed or adjusted by an orthodontist. This appliance creates a physical barrier that can make tongue thrusting more difficult or uncomfortable for the patient, and thereby eventually reverses the habit.
The second option is orofacial myofunctional therapy. This therapy is designed to re-train the muscles associated with swallowing by way of changing the swallowing pattern.