There is nothing substantial in this world than to watch your child learning how to eat and speak. Growing up babies develop a habit of tongue thrust to help in suckling.

Usually, this habit of tongue thrust wares away as the child grows older. However, in some children, this habit may persist after infancy.

A prolonged habit of tongue thrust often interferes with speech and the ability to swallow. In addition to this, tongue thrusting may also affect the facial development of the child.

Detection of tongue thrust at the right age is essential to treat it appropriately.

Tongue thrust exercises are one of the best means of treatment. Doctors and speech therapists recommend it.

Tongue thrust exercises play a crucial role in improving the child’s ability to speak and swallow properly.

These home-based exercises are easy to perform and have shown excellent results especially in growing children.

Let’s read further to learn about the quick home-based exercises that can correct the habit of tongue thrust in children.

What is tongue thrust?

Tongue thrust is an oral habit wherein the tongue is pushed against or between the teeth while the baby is at rest, talking or swallowing. (1)

Clinically this condition is called as Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder.

During tongue thrust, the baby does not use the muscles of the mouth, lips, face, and jaws correctly. Often such a habit leads to dental and speech problems.

What causes tongue thrust?

A wide range of causes leads to tongue thrust in babies as well as an adolescent. Some of them may include –

  • Prolonged infantile swallow
  • Long term habit of thumb sucking
  • Long term habit of cheek biting
  • Allergies that may cause tonsillitis or enlarged adenoids
  • Tongue tie

What are the signs and symptoms of tongue thrust?

Tongue thrust includes some typical signs that manifest in children as they grow old. These signs are as follows –

  • The tip of the tongue can be seen between the teeth while the child is at rest, speaking or swallowing.
  • A habit of mouth breathing
  • Inability to close the lips completely at rest
  • Open bite – the upper front teeth do not meet the lower teeth during occlusion
  • A pattern of eating slowly or fast
  • Lisping – especially while speaking out words that start with ‘s’ and ‘z’

How is tongue thrust diagnosed?

The diagnosis of tongue thrust is confirmed by a team of dentist, orthodontist, general physician, and a speech therapist.

Different aspects of the child’s facial development, speech, and swallowing pattern are tested to detect the position of the tongue during every event. Any habit of thumb sucking or nail biting is taken into consideration. (2)

The degree of malfunction is assessed, and a treatment plan is prepared accordingly.

How can you correct tongue thrust?

Usually, a child can begin the treatment of tongue thrust by eight years of age.

Before starting the tongue thrust exercises, the team of professionals determines the underlying problems. These problems may include, malocclusions, obstructed airway, respiratory problems, and imperfect teeth alignment. (3)

The key to successful therapy is to eliminate the underlying problems and then proceed with the exercises. This process allows the child to place the tongue in the right position.

A tongue thrust therapy includes ten 30-minute sessions that are scheduled every week. This is followed by two 30-minute follow-up sessions in the next three to four months.

Tongue thrust exercises may include –

Professional exercises

A professional tongue thrust exercise can be performed under the guidance of a dentist or an orthodontist. This exercise trains the child to position the tongue correctly while at rest and swallowing. (4)

 The steps are as follows –  

  • First place an orthodontic rubber band on the tip of the tongue
  • Place the tip of the tongue against the roof right behind the upper front teeth
  • Occlude your teeth in a regular bite. Do not bite forward
  • Keep the lips apart
  • Swallow while keeping your lips apart and teeth closed

Two sets of 30 swallow practices are recommended every day.

Use of flashcards

Reading out flashcards help the child to focus on individual sounds that require to place the tongue at the proper spot. Letters like D, T, K, and L are the best phonemes to train the child in improving tongue thrusting.

You can perform this exercise as follows –

  • Show a flashcard with each letter along with the right placement of the tongue
  • Allow the child to follow you and practice each letter at least once at a time
  • Work it through until the child becomes comfortable with the pronunciation and placement of the tongue

Sing along a song

This unique exercise emulates parts of the flashcard concept. The child is allowed to pick a favorite song and sing along using the sounds ‘lah’ and ‘dah’ in the corresponding melody.

This exercise teaches the correct tongue placement to the child in a fun and exciting way.

Tongue trivia

This exercise focuses on gaining tongue control and creating placement awareness.

  • Create trivia cards around your child’s favorite topic
  • Ask questions that require one-word responses
  • Allow the child to trace the letters of the word on top of their mouth with their tongue
  • Reinforce the corrective technique by rewarding the child for every effort made

Take away message

Tongue thrust may seem complicated but is a highly treatable oral condition. Most of the children grow out of the habit of tongue thrust by the age of six.

However, tongue thrust may persist in some children. No parent wants to watch their child suffer from speech problems or swallowing difficulties.

The key to success lies in following the appropriate treatment modalities as recommended by the team of professionals.

Elimination of any underlying problem such as malalignment of teeth, enlarged tonsils, and respiratory problems should be treated primarily before starting the tongue thrust therapy.

Parental support and a motivated environment play a crucial role in encouraging the child to participate in the exercises actively.

Tongue thrust exercises train the child to position the tongue correctly while at rest & swallowing. Dentist supervision is a must.