tongue thrusting treatment

Tongue thrusting, also known as tongue thrust, is a condition where the tongue protrudes through the anterior teeth during swallowing, speech, and even at rest. This habit, while often overlooked, can have significant implications on dental health, speech development, and overall oral function. This article delves into the causes, effects, and treatments of tongue thrusting, offering a comprehensive understanding of this condition.


What is Tongue Thrusting?

Tongue thrusting involves the habitual placement of the tongue against or between the teeth during swallowing and other activities. This condition is most commonly identified in children, but it can persist into adulthood if not addressed. During normal swallowing, the tongue should press against the roof of the mouth (the palate), but in tongue thrusting, it pushes against or between the teeth, often causing dental and orthodontic issues.


Causes of Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting can stem from a variety of factors, both physiological and habitual:

  • Infantile Swallow Pattern
  • Prolonged Thumb Sucking or Pacifier Use
  • Nasal Obstruction
  • Enlarged Tonsils or Adenoids
  • Structural Abnormalities
  • Genetic Factors


Infantile Swallow Pattern

Babies naturally have a tongue-thrust swallow pattern, which usually changes as they grow. However, if this pattern persists beyond infancy, it can lead to tongue thrusting.

Prolonged Thumb Sucking or Pacifier Use

Extended thumb sucking or use of pacifiers can encourage an abnormal tongue position and swallowing pattern.

Nasal Obstruction

Conditions that cause chronic nasal obstruction, such as allergies or enlarged tonsils and adenoids, can lead to mouth breathing and subsequently, tongue thrusting.

Enlarged Tonsils or Adenoids

These can block the airway, causing the tongue to adopt a forward position to help open the airway.

Structural Abnormalities

Abnormalities in the structure of the oral cavity, such as a high arched palate, can also contribute to tongue thrusting.

Genetic Factors

There can be a hereditary component where the tendency to develop tongue thrust is passed down in families.


Effects of Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting can have a range of effects, particularly on dental health and speech development:

  • Dental Problems
  • Speech Issues
  • Swallowing Difficulties
  • Orthodontic Relapse


Dental Problems

The most common issue is an open bite, where the front teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed. This can lead to problems with chewing and biting. Over time, tongue thrusting can also cause misalignment of teeth (malocclusion), which may require orthodontic treatment.

Speech Issues

Tongue thrusting can affect speech clarity. It often leads to articulation problems, particularly with sounds like “s,” “z,” “t,” and “d.” This is because the tongue’s incorrect position affects the airflow and sound production.

Swallowing Difficulties

An improper swallow can lead to inefficient and sometimes uncomfortable swallowing patterns. This might not only affect nutrition but also lead to social discomfort.

Orthodontic Relapse

Individuals who have undergone orthodontic treatment might experience a relapse if tongue thrusting habits are not corrected, as the constant pressure of the tongue can move the teeth back to their original positions.


Diagnosis of Tongue Thrusting

Diagnosing tongue thrusting involves a multidisciplinary approach, typically including a dentist, orthodontist, and speech-language pathologist. Here are the steps generally involved:

  • Clinical Examination
  • Patient History
  • Orthodontic Assessment
  • Speech Evaluation


Clinical Examination

A thorough examination of the oral cavity to observe the position of the tongue at rest, during swallowing, and during speech.

Patient History

Understanding the patient’s habits, such as thumb sucking, mouth breathing, or pacifier use, helps in identifying potential causes.

Orthodontic Assessment

Assessing the alignment of the teeth and any malocclusions that might suggest tongue thrusting.

Speech Evaluation

A speech-language pathologist can assess for articulation issues that might be related to tongue thrusting.


Treatment of Tongue Thrusting

Treatment for tongue thrusting involves addressing both the habit and any resulting dental issues. A combination of orthodontic treatment, myofunctional therapy, and habit correction is often used:

  • Myofunctional Therapy
  • Orthodontic Treatment
  • Speech Therapy
  • Habit Elimination
  • Medical Treatment


Myofunctional Therapy

This therapy focuses on retraining the muscles of the mouth and face to develop a correct swallowing pattern and tongue position. Exercises might include tongue lifts, resistance training, and controlled swallowing techniques.

Orthodontic Treatment

Braces or other orthodontic devices may be used to correct the dental issues caused by tongue thrusting. In some cases, orthodontic appliances such as tongue cribs or spurs are used to help retrain the tongue’s position.

Speech Therapy

For those with speech issues, speech therapy can be crucial. Speech-language pathologists work on correct articulation and the proper positioning of the tongue during speech.

Habit Elimination

If the tongue thrusting is related to habits such as thumb sucking or prolonged pacifier use, addressing and eliminating these habits is essential. This might involve behavioral techniques, positive reinforcement, and in some cases, appliances to prevent thumb sucking.

Medical Treatment

If the tongue thrusting is due to enlarged tonsils, adenoids, or other medical conditions, appropriate medical or surgical interventions might be necessary to address the underlying cause.


Prevention of Tongue Thrusting

Preventing tongue thrusting involves early intervention and awareness of potential risk factors:

  • Monitoring Habits in Children
  • Promoting Nasal Breathing
  • Regular Dental Check-Ups
  • Encouraging Proper Swallowing Techniques


Monitoring Habits in Children

Parents should monitor and limit thumb sucking, pacifier use, and bottle feeding beyond the recommended age.

Promoting Nasal Breathing

Ensuring that children breathe through their nose rather than their mouth can help prevent tongue thrusting. This might involve treating allergies or other nasal obstructions early.

Regular Dental Check-Ups

Regular visits to the dentist can help in early detection and management of tongue thrusting.

Encouraging Proper Swallowing Techniques

Teaching children proper swallowing techniques can prevent the development of tongue thrusting habits.


Long-Term Outlook

The long-term outlook for individuals with tongue thrusting largely depends on the timing and effectiveness of the treatment. Early intervention, particularly in childhood, can lead to successful outcomes, with corrected dental alignment and improved speech clarity. For adults, while treatment can be more challenging due to the ingrained nature of the habit, it is still possible to achieve significant improvements with consistent therapy and orthodontic care.



Tongue thrusting is a condition that can have significant implications if left unaddressed, impacting dental health, speech, and overall oral function. Understanding its causes, effects, and treatment options is crucial for effective management. Early intervention, a multidisciplinary approach, and a commitment to therapy are key to overcoming tongue thrusting and ensuring optimal oral health and function. Through comprehensive care and education, both children and adults can achieve lasting improvements and prevent the long-term consequences associated with this condition.

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