Have you ever noticed the normal position of your tongue when you rest? Maybe you haven’t. Normally in the resting position, the tongue tip rests on the roof of the mouth, behind the upper front teeth.

In the case of tongue thrust, the normal position of the tongue is altered. Patient suffering from tongue thrusting has the tongue positioned in between the upper and lower front teeth. Most of us ignore such little abnormalities which later may fall into major difficulties.

Abnormal positioning of the tongue leads to many complications and undesirable changes. That is why it becomes essential to treat the tongue thrust habits at the initial stage. Let’s us move ahead to know more about the tongue thrust.

What is tongue thrust?

Tongue thrust is the abnormal positioning of the tongue. It develops the unusual swallowing pattern in which the tongue is placed in between the upper and lower teeth, leading to open bite.

Also read: What Does a Healthy Tongue Look Like?

Tongue thrust in babies

Tongue thrust in babies often referred to as, infantile swallow pattern. It commonly noticed in babies who are breastfed or bottle fed for a longer time.

Some bottle nipples and the longer duration of bottle feeding causes the tongue thrusting in babies which then last past the infant’s stage and into early childhood.

Tongue thrust in adults

Tongue thrust in adults is also known as the myofunctional disorder. Untreated childhood habit of tongue thrust carries forward in adulthood.

Development of tongue thrust in adults often occurs because of the chronic allergies, stress or swelling of the adenoids or tonsils.

Causes

 Various causes of tongue thrust in babies are –

  • Long-term sucking habits such as sucking of thumb, digit or tongue.
  • Tongue-tie, where the band of tissue is short and does not allow the tongue moment beyond a certain limit. (1)
  • Reverse swallow. (2)
  • Allergies along with chronically swollen tonsils or adenoids.

Symptoms

Tongue thrust can be identified in children by the number of signs like –

  • Visible tongue in between the upper and lower front teeth. The tip of the tongue is visible when the child swallow, sleeping or resting.
  • Open bite – The tongue thrust does not allow the upper and lower teeth to meet and leads to an open bite.
  • Mouth breathing.
  • Lip incompetence. Tongue thrust often causes an inability to close the lips completely.
  • Speech impediment – You will notice the frequent use of ‘s’ and ‘z’ sound in such patients. (3)
  • Slow, fast or messy eating.

Untreated tongue thrusting in a child will carry forward in adulthood. Along with the above symptoms, some added signs that are seen in adults are –

  • Elongated face, because of the inability to close the mouth completely.
  • Larger tongue than others.
  • Adult often suffers from the eating difficulty due to open bite. Due to open bite, the teeth do not come in contact. Hence, the person with tongue thrust suffers from the difficulty of chewing and eating.

Complications

Tongue thrusting habit develops many complications such as –

Speech problem

Speech problem develops in children due to tongue thrust. Difficulty in the clear pronunciation of words or slurry speech or repetition of ‘s’ and ‘z’ words noticed in a patient who suffers from tongue thrust.

Orthodontic problem

An orthodontic problem such as forward placement of teeth, disturbed occlusion, open bite, etc. arises due to tongue thrusting.

In tongue thrusting, the tongue tip pressed against the upper front teeth and makes your teeth to move forward causing proclination.

Also, the abnormal tongue position in tongue thrusting habit creates a gap between the upper and lower teeth and leads to the open bite.

Abnormal facial shape

Elongated face and lip incompetency are the significant changes noticed in adults having tongue thrust habit.

How is tongue thrust diagnosed?

To diagnose the tongue thrust, many professional required including –

  • Dentist.
  • Speech and language pathologist.
  • Orthodontist.
  • Pediatrician.
  • General practitioner.

The doctor will carefully observe the swallowing pattern of your child and where your child places the tongue during swallowing.

Some practitioner observes the swallow pattern by holding down the bottom lip and then asking the patient to swallow.

Treatment

Treatment of tongue thrust involves the combination of therapy, exercise, and the appliances to guide the tongue in the correct position.

Exercise

Exercise is essential to retrain the habit of tongue thrust. It will help you to practice the normal tongue position so that your tongue will stay in the middle of the mouth while swallowing.

Go for the following exercise to fix your habit.

  • Place an orthodontic rubber band on the tip of your tongue.
  • Press the tip of your tongue against the palatal side of upper front teeth, i.e., right behind your upper front teeth.
  • Now, bite your teeth in normal occlusion.
  • Keep your lips apart.
  • Swallow without closing the lips and moving the teeth from occlusion.
  • Perform two sets of 30 swallow daily.

This exercise will reduce the habit of placing the tongue forward while swallowing.

Appliances

Appliances are used to correct the tongue thrust habit and its complications. Various appliances used for the correction of this habit are –

Tongue crib

Tongue crib placed in the roof of the child patient’s mouth. This appliance correct the tongue thrust and open bite. (4)

Orthodontic appliances

Fixed orthodontic appliances are used to correct the tongue thrust and open bite in adults.

Conventional treatment

Conventional treatment aims to eliminate the cause of the disorder. Doctor advise, addressing the nasal, breathing and allergic issue involved in tongue thrust.

Also, orofacial myology therapy is advisable. Myofunctional therapy can address swallowing habits (5). It also corrects the placement of lip, jaw, and tongue.

In addition to various therapies for tongue thrust, it is essential to treat the complications arise due to this habit. Speech impediment is one such complication need to be taken care off.

Speech therapy is advised to correct the speech problem develop due to tongue thrusting.

Over to you

Tongue thrust is a habit and it is a treatable condition if one can attend appropriate therapy session recommended by a doctor. Treating the underlying health condition that contributes to tongue thrusting is equally essential to resolve this habit.

With a dedication to weekly therapies, tongue thrusting can be corrected over time.

Patient suffering from tongue thrust has the tongue positioned in between the upper and lower front teeth. The normal position is altered.