Tongue thrust is the pushing of the tongue against the teeth while swallowing or at rest. The average person swallows 2000 - 4000 times per day and exerts pressure of about 1-6 pounds with each swallow. The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body and teeth move out of alignment and may even cause distorted speech sounds.
Nearly all infants swallow pushing the tongue forward. By the time they reach the age of six, most children automatically change into normal adult swallowing pattern, which is placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth. But some retain the infantile swallowing habit and become tongue thrusters. Nervous thrusting of tongue, which is an involuntary subconscious habit, also is detrimental to the position of the teeth.
What causes tongue thrust?
Why is the dentist concerned?
Tongue thrust often results in an open bite and/or buck teeth. Pressure from tongue will continue to affect the overall jaw development as well as the tooth alignment leading to "bad bites". Patients undergoing orthodontic treatment will experience relapse soon after removal of the braces, if the habit is not corrected. In the presence of gum (periodontal) infections, abnormal forces from the tongue will separate the front teeth and move them forward, as the weakened tooth support cannot withstand the forces. Thus, it is not uncommon to see drifting of teeth in such patients, which poses an esthetic problem.
How to correct tongue thrusting?
Components of tongue thrust therapy include education, training of proper swallowing pattern and exercises for the lips and tongue. In situations where the habit is severe, a removable appliance may be necessary to block the tongue away from the front teeth. Unfortunately, some thrusters are never corrected due to lack of parental support or lack of cooperation from the patient. If open bite (front teeth do not touch) is detected in a child, it is recommended that they should be seen around age seven for a preliminary orthodontic examination.
How can you help yourself to avoid tongue thrusting?