Dental Disorders 101: Tongue Thrusting

Posted on: 27 February 2017

Tongue thrusting, also known by the more formal name of orofacial muscular imbalance, refers to the behavioral pattern of pressing the tongue outtbetween the front teeth while swallowing, speaking, and resting. While tongue thrusting is both normal and relatively harmless before the age of six, those who continue this pattern later in life tend to develop various dental problems. If you would like to learn more about tongue thrusting, read on. This article will provide a useful overview of the subject.

Causes Of Tongue Thrusting

As noted above, tongue thrusting is considered normal up until a certain point of development. That's because it falls into the category of infant swallowing patterns, which most children outgrow by the time they are four or five years of age. Those who do not, however, tend to struggle more and more, as the pattern becomes habitually engrained.

The reasons why some children continue to exhibit tongue thrusting are not completely known. There are a wide variety of factors that are believed to play a part. These may include such things as:

  • macroglossia (an oversized or enlarged tongue)
  • thumb sucking
  • the phenomenon known as ankyloglssia, or tongue tie
  • certain hereditary factors

Likewise, tongue thrusting may be linked to allergies or excessive nasal congestion. These conditions will cause the tongue to sit at a lower level in the mouth, thus inadvertently increasing the likelihood that it will end up thrust between the teeth.

Effects Of Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting tends to lead to alignment problems of the anterior teeth. This stems directly from the pressure that is exerted on the teeth and mouth when swallowing. With the tongue thrust between the front teeth, this pressure will then cause the teeth to bow outward over time, leading to malocclusion issues such as an open bite. Tongue thrusting can also lead to certain speech problems, with lisping being chief among them. This is due to the air being forced around the sides of the tongue, rather than coming forward out of the center of the mouth.

Treatment Options

There are two principal methods of addressing tongue thrusting: mechanical and therapeutic. For best results, the two are used in conjunction with one another. Mechanical methods involve the use of an oral appliance that looks somewhat like a night guard. This appliance forces the tongue to be held at a more appropriate position inside of the mouth.

Therapeutic methods involve un-learning the poor oral habits through various exercise techniques. These act to re-educate the muscles that are used in swallowing, changing the swallowing pattern--and thus the position at which the tongue is held. Such therapy, when implemented by a knowledgeable childrens dentist, is considered a highly effective method of eliminating the problem.


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