Common orthodontic problems, like bite misalignments (overbite, underbite, etc.), crooked teeth, crowded teeth and spaced teeth are often caused by childhood habits involving the mouth, like thumbsucking or tongue thrusting.
Applying persistent pressure to the teeth, whether it’s pressure from your thumb or tongue, can affect the development and alignment of the teeth. When children make a habit out of pushing their tongue against their teeth while their teeth and jaw bones are developing, this can lead to a number of difficulties, including long-term speech impediments, an open bite, and gaps between teeth.
So what exactly does it mean to tongue thrust, why does your child do it, and how do you fix it? We’ll cover it all!
Here’s everything you need to know about the tongue thrusting habit:
What is a tongue thrust?
Tongue thrusting is the motion of pushing your tongue forward, against the back of the teeth or between the top and bottom teeth, when swallowing, speaking or relaxing.
This habit is considered an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), or a “deficit that includes orofacial and oral muscles and can interfere with structural growth, function, or development”.
When a child applies persistent pressure to the teeth when swallowing or speaking, this can push the teeth out of their current alignment. If tongue thrusting continues into the teen years, it can have a severe impact on the development of the permanent teeth, as well as the alignment of the jaw bones, and facial appearance.
The tongue thrusting habit may be a conscious or subconscious habit. Your child may not even realize they’re pushing their tongue against their teeth regularly.
When your child visits us for his or her first orthodontic exam, (recommended by the AAO around the age of 7), one of our experienced family orthodontists – Dr. Saxe and Dr. Drowley – will assess for signs of tongue thrusting to help intervene with this habit early on.
What causes tongue thrusting?
Tongue thrusting can have a number of different causes, including:
- Narrow palate (upper jaw bone)
- Allergies or congestion
- Enlarged tonsils
- Tongue tie
- Using bottles or pacifiers after 4 to 5 years of age
- Using sippy cup after 4 to 5 years of age
- Thumb sucking
Is there a tongue thrust treatment?
If your child has a tongue thrust habit, we have a solution to help! The best treatment for your child will depend on his or her specific case.
Your child’s highly experienced orthodontist may suggest the Tongue Habit Appliance. This appliance holds the tongue back in proper position, disabling it from thrusting forward when swallowing.
The Tongue Habit Appliance can help retrain the tongue muscles and promote healthy tongue placement when speaking, swallowing or resting.
Can you treat tongue thrust with braces?
A full treatment of braces or Invisalign may be necessary to correct the damage done by tongue thrusting, but the habit of tongue thrusting can’t be corrected with braces alone.
Depending on your child’s case, it may be best to treat the habit first with an appliance, then once the habit is broken, treat the misalignment with braces or Invisalign. If we begin braces or Invisalign treatment before the tongue thrust habit is broken, treatment won’t be effective, because the problem is still present and tongue thrusting will continue to prevent progress.
Once the habit is broken, which may be around 6 months of wearing the appliance, our orthodontists can help you determine the best orthodontic treatment moving forward!
How to Stop Tongue Thrusting: an At-Home Exercise
If you notice your child has a tongue thrusting habit, there’s an exercise you can practice at home to work on this habit!
You and your child can try these steps together:
- Place a sugar-free candy, like a lifesaver, on the tip of your tongue.
- Press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
- Make sure that your tongue is pushing against the lifesaver.
- Bite your teeth together and keep your lips apart.
- Swallow, but be sure to keep your teeth together and lips apart!
This exercise can be a bit challenging, but if your child works at it, he or she can help strengthen the tongue muscles before beginning orthodontic treatment (if necessary).
Still have questions about tongue thrusting?
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions! We’ll also tell you everything you need to know when you visit us for your complimentary consultation.
Our experienced orthodontists, Dr. Saxe and Dr. Drowley, are here for you and your family every step of the way.
If you’re ready to get started, request your complimentary consultation with us today.