Big Apple Pediatric Dentistry

What Every Parent Should Know About Tongue Thrusting

What Every Parent Should Know About Tongue Thrusting

Reviewed by Dr. Henry Martinez, DMD

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Tongue thrusting is a common condition in children and, less commonly, in adults. While you may have heard about this condition, you may wonder: What is tongue thrusting?

Tongue thrusting refers to a habitual pattern where the tongue pushes against or between the teeth while swallowing, speaking, or even at rest. This habit can lead to a variety of dental and speech issues if not addressed in a timely manner.

In this blog, we will explore more about this habit and its effects on children, as well as provide some helpful tips for parents to manage this condition.

What Causes Tongue Thrusting?

There are several reasons why a child may develop tongue thrusting. Here are the most common reasons:

  • Mouth breathing: Habitual breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can alter tongue positions.
  • Thumb sucking: A common habit in children that can exert forward pressure on the teeth and alter the natural resting position of the tongue.
  • Enlarged tonsils: Swollen tonsils can obstruct the airway, leading to mouth breathing and consequently, tongue thrusting.
  • Speech impediments: Sometimes associated with abnormal tongue movements.
  • Tongue tie: A tongue tie restricts the movement of the tongue. It affects the mobility, function and rest posture of the tongue. 

*For more information about tongue ties, read our blog series: What Parents Need to Know About Cheek, Lip and Tongue Ties.  

Types of Tongue Thrust

There are 4 types of tongue thrust:

  • Anterior: This is the most common type, where the tongue pushes against the front teeth.
  • Posterior: In this pattern, the tongue pushes forward and upward against the roof of the mouth while swallowing.
  • Lateral: Here, the tongue exerts pressure on one side of the mouth while swallowing.
  • Multiple:  A combination of two or more types, which can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging.

The Impact of Tongue Thrusting

On Dental Health

Persistent and uncorrected tongue thrusting can apply constant pressure against the teeth, especially the front teeth, leading to orthodontic problems like:

  • Misaligned teeth or open bites
  • Delayed development of permanent teeth
  • Need for orthodontic treatment using appliances like braces or a tongue crib

On Speech

Tongue thrust in babies might seem harmless but can lead to speech impediments if not corrected early. Adults with this condition may also experience speech difficulties that require intervention from a speech therapist.

3 Signs Your Child Is Tongue Thrusting

  1. Visible tongue movements: Can your child’s tongue be seen pushing against or between the teeth when they swallow, speak, or rest?
  2. Open mouth posture: Does your child habitually breathe through their mouth instead of their nose? Do they keep their mouth open even at rest?
  3. Speech difficulties: Are there any noticeable issues with how your child speaks, such as lisping or difficulty producing certain sounds?

How to Manage Tongue Thrusting in Children

If you suspect your child may be tongue thrusting, here are some ways to help manage the condition:

  • Consult with a dentist: A thorough dental examination can help identify the cause of tongue thrusting and determine the best course of treatment.
  • Frenectomy: A simple surgical procedure that removes the restricted frenum, allowing the tongue to move unrestricted. 
  • Orthodontic appliances: In some cases, a tongue crib or other orthodontic appliance may be recommended to help correct the position of the tongue and teeth.
  • Encourage proper breathing: Teach your child how to breathe through their nose instead of their mouth.
  • Address thumb sucking: If your child has this habit, work with them to stop it as soon as possible.
  • Speech therapy: For children with speech difficulties, a speech therapist can provide exercises that re-educate the tongue muscles and techniques to improve speech patterns.
  • Orofacial myofunctional therapy:  This specialized therapy helps retrain orofacial muscles to correct tongue thrusting and other related issues.

Final Thoughts

Tongue thrusting is a common condition that can have significant consequences if left untreated. As a parent, it’s essential to be aware of the signs and causes and seek professional help if needed. 

With early intervention, proper management, and support from parents, children can overcome this habit and prevent possible dental and speech issues in the future.

Dr. Henry Martinez: Your Kids Dentist in Phoenix

If you suspect your child may have tongue thrusting or any other dental concerns, visit Dr. Henry Martinez at Big Apple Pediatric Dentistry in Phoenix.

Dr. Martinez and his team specialize in pediatric dentistry and can provide expert care for your child’s oral health needs. Schedule an appointment today and let us help your child achieve a healthy and beautiful smile! 

If you are searching for a pediatric dentist near me, we can help. Call (602) 935-7427 to book an appointment or complete the online inquiry form. We look forward to meeting you and your child!

FAQs About Tongue Thrusting

How do you know if you have tongue thrust?

There are several signs that could indicate tongue thrusting, including visible tongue movements, open mouth posture, and speech difficulties. It’s best to consult with a dentist for a proper diagnosis.

When should I be worried about tongue thrusting?

If your child is exhibiting signs of tongue thrusting, it’s best to consult with a dentist as soon as possible. Early intervention can prevent potential dental and speech problems in the future.

Can adults develop tongue thrusting?

Yes, adults can tongue thrust, but it is more common in children. If an adult tongue thrusts, it’s usually because it was not diagnosed in childhood. 

How do adults fix tongue thrusting?

The treatment for adults with tongue thrusting may involve speech therapy and/or orofacial myofunctional therapy. It’s best to consult with a dentist or specialist for a personalized treatment plan.  There are also exercises and techniques that can be practiced at home to help retrain the tongue muscles.

Additional Resources

Understanding Common Dental Problems in Kids
Preventative Measures for Pediatric Dental Problems
How to Fix a Crossbite Smile in Kids