Tongue thrusting (also called reverse swallowing or immature swallow) is a muscular imbalance which leads to the tongue pressing too far forward in the mouth during speech, swallowing, and even when the tongue is at rest. If left untreated, tongue thrust can result in orthodontic issues such as an open bite, or in some cases a lisp.
What is tongue thrust?
Tongue thrusting is characterized by the tongue protruding through the front teeth when the child or adult is talking, swallowing, and sometimes even when the tongue is at rest. This tongue positioning is typically due to an orofacial muscular imbalance.
Although tongue thrust is perfectly normal in infants who are still breast or bottle fed, they should begin to grow out it at around 6 months of age as their swallowing and speaking patterns gradually evolve. When tongue thrust stops naturally in babies, it's often considered an appropriate time to begin introducing solid foods.
If tongue thrusting continues after the age of 4 it can begin to cause problematic orthodontic issues such as an open bite (when the front teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed). The early detection and treatment of conditions caused by tongue can help to prevent more severe issues from developing. That's why even young children can benefit from an orthodontic evaluation.
Why is tongue thrust a problem?
When tongue thrust is left untreated it can have serious consequences your child's teeth and mouth. On average, a person will swallow 1,200 - 2,000 times a day. During each swallow, the tongue will exert between 1 - 6 pounds of pressure on the teeth and other surrounding oral structures. After awhile this continuous pressure on the teeth can cause noticeable tooth misalignment and bite issues.
How is tongue thrust treated?
There are two main treatments for tongue thrust in adults and children:
- Night guards & Other Dental Appliances - A night guard or a more permanent dental appliance that can only be removed or adjusted by an orthodontist or dentist can be placed. This creates a physical barrier that makes tongue thrusting more difficult or uncomfortable for the patient, and thereby eventually reverses the habit.
- Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy - Another effective way to treat tongue thrust is through orofacial myofunctional therapy which can be used to re-train the muscles associated with swallowing by changing the swallowing pattern.