Understanding Tongue Thrust and Its Causes
Tongue thrust is a condition that affects a lot of people, especially children. It is also known as orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD) and is characterized by an abnormal swallowing pattern. Ordinarily, when you swallow, your tongue should press to the roof of your mouth behind your teeth, and the teeth should be slightly apart. In contrast, when you have a tongue thrust, the tongue moves forward and presses against the front teeth. It causes speech, chewing, swallowing, and breathing difficulties. In extreme cases, tongue thrust can cause malocclusion, which is a misalignment of the teeth and the jaws.
The exact causes of tongue thrust are unclear, but several factors contribute to it. At birth, some people might have a hyperactive tongue, an underdeveloped jaw, lip, and facial muscles. In contrast, others might have a genetic predisposition to the condition. Sometimes tongue thrust is a result of poor speech and eating habits which develops over time.
Some of the possible causes of tongue thrust include:
- Thumb Sucking: When children suck their thumb or fingers for an extended period, it affects their teeth, jaw and can lead to a tongue thrust.
- Breathing through the mouth: Nasal obstruction that causes frequent mouth breathing can contribute to tongue thrust.
- Artificial baby feeding appliances: Pacifiers, baby bottles, and sippy cups can increase the chance of tongue thrust by encouraging improper swallowing.
- Low muscle tone: If you have low muscle tone, you may struggle to control the muscles of your face and mouth leading to a tongue thrust.
- Neurological disorders: Certain neurological disorders may lead to a tongue thrust such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, or autism.
- Tongue tie: A tongue-tie is a condition where the frenulum (the piece of tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short, making it difficult for a person to move their tongue correctly.
Tongue thrust can cause dental problems, difficulty sleeping, and chewing, mouth breathing, and speech difficulties. Therefore, it is essential to seek treatment early if you think you or your child could be affected.
In the next section, we will explore ways to diagnose and treat tongue thrust effectively.
Identifying Tongue Thrust in Children and Adults
Tongue thrusting happens when someone presses the tongue against the front teeth or the mouth’s roof when speaking, swallowing, or even at rest. If not corrected, this habit could cause dental and speech problems. While tongue thrusting is natural in babies under six months old, it should stop as they learn new skills like chewing and talking. Here are some signs of tongue thrusting and how to identify them:
1. Open bite: When a person bites down, there is a gap between their front teeth, indicating an open bite. Normally when the teeth are in their natural position, they touch each other, but when a person has an open bite, the tongue has the space to protrude. This malocclusion can result in difficulty biting, chewing, and speaking.
2. Forward tongue position: If someone repeatedly speaks with a forward tongue position, they are likely to have tongue thrust. This position can also affect the appearance of a person’s face. The lips may appear sunken, making the face seem rounder than it is. Lack of pressure on the cheeks and lips can lead to a functional or cosmetic problem.
3. Inability to control saliva: If a person frequently drools or has to wipe their mouth regularly, they might have a tongue thrust. The thrusting pushes the saliva outside of the mouth each time they swallow or talk. For babies, drooling is normal, but if this continues frequently despite old age, consult a physician.
4. Tongue protrusion during speech: When someone speaks, their tongue should be at the roof of their mouth or behind the teeth. If a person has tongue thrust, the tongue will protrude out, touching the front teeth. You might hear a clicking sound, excessive saliva, or sounds that mimic a lisp or a slur.
5. Pain: While not all forms of tongue thrust cause pain, if the lips and cheeks are not properly supported, it can cause discomfort in the mouth or surrounding areas. In some cases, a person might feel pain when speaking, yawning, or chewing.
It’s essential to treat tongue thrusting in a timely manner to avoid dental and speech issues. When in doubt, consult a dentist or speech therapist for an evaluation.
Exercises to Correct Tongue Thrust
If you or someone you know has tongue thrust, you may be interested to know that there are exercises you can do to correct it. Tongue thrust can be caused by a variety of factors, including thumb sucking, pacifier use, or even genetics. Whatever the cause, exercises can help retrain the muscles of the tongue to rest in the correct position and swallow properly.
Here we explain several different exercises you can try at home to correct tongue thrust. It is important to note that these exercises should be done under the guidance of a speech therapist or other trained healthcare professional.
Sucking exercises can help retrain the tongue muscles used in correct swallowing. These exercises can be performed using various objects, including lollipops, straws, and even fingers. One effective exercise involves placing the tongue against the roof of the mouth and applying gentle suction by placing a finger or straw in the mouth. This exercise can be repeated several times a day to improve muscle tone and position.
Another useful exercise is holding a lollipop or similar object between the lips and sucking on it for several minutes at a time. This exercise can help encourage correct lip and tongue placement for swallowing.
Tongue Retraction Exercises
Tongue retraction exercises focus on pulling the tongue back in the mouth to rest in the correct position. One commonly used exercise involves sticking the tongue out as far as possible and then pulling it back in and pressing it against the roof of the mouth. This exercise can be repeated several times a day to improve muscle strength and position.
Another useful exercise involves using a tongue depressor or popsicle stick to roll the tongue back and press it against the roof of the mouth. This exercise can also be done several times a day to help improve muscle tone and tongue position.
Biting and Chewing Exercises
The muscles used for biting and chewing are closely related to those used for swallowing, so exercises that focus on these actions can help improve tongue position and function. One useful exercise involves biting down on a soft, chewy food like a piece of gum or gummy candy and holding it in the side teeth while swallowing. This exercise can be repeated several times a day to improve muscle tone and position.
Another exercise involves chewing food with the molars, then pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth to help move the food back for swallowing. This exercise can be done with a variety of foods and can be repeated regularly to help retrain the muscles for correct swallowing.
Posture exercises focus on improving overall muscle tone and function to promote correct swallowing. One useful exercise involves sitting up straight and aligning the head, neck, and spine. While in this position, the tongue can be lifted to rest against the roof of the mouth and held there for several minutes. Breathing exercises can also be incorporated to help improve overall muscle tone and posture.
Another helpful posture exercise involves practicing good head and neck alignment while sitting or standing. This can involve incorporating simple stretches and movements into daily activities to promote muscle tone and correct alignment habits.
These are just a few examples of exercises that can be used to correct tongue thrust. Remember, it is important to work with a trained healthcare professional to develop a personalized exercise plan that is safe and effective for you or your loved one. With time and consistent practice, these exercises can help retrain the tongue muscles and promote correct swallowing habits.
Treatment Options for Tongue Thrust
If you or someone you know is struggling with tongue thrust, there are several treatment options available to help correct the issue. Here is a breakdown of some of the most common treatment options:
Speech therapy is often the first treatment option recommended for those with tongue thrust. A speech therapist will work with the patient to retrain their tongue to rest in the correct position and help them to develop new habits to prevent tongue thrust from occurring. The therapist may use exercises, biofeedback devices, or other techniques to help the patient achieve the desired results. Speech therapy can be a highly effective treatment for tongue thrust, especially when started early on.
Myofunctional therapy is a specialized form of therapy that focuses on the muscles of the face and mouth. This treatment option involves exercises designed to strengthen and retrain the muscles used in swallowing, speaking, and breathing. Myofunctional therapy can help to correct tongue thrust by improving tongue posture and muscle function, which can lead to a more balanced and healthy oral environment.
Orthodontic treatment may also be recommended for those with tongue thrust. This treatment option involves the use of braces, aligners, or other devices to correct the position of the teeth and jaws. By aligning the teeth and jaws properly, the tongue is more likely to rest in the correct position. Orthodontic treatment can be highly effective for correcting tongue thrust, especially when combined with other treatment options such as speech therapy or myofunctional therapy.
Oral appliances are another treatment option for those with tongue thrust. These devices are designed to hold the tongue in the correct position and prevent it from pressing against the teeth during swallowing or speaking. Oral appliances can be custom-made to fit the patient’s mouth and may be used in combination with other treatment options such as speech therapy or myofunctional therapy. While oral appliances can be effective for correcting tongue thrust, they may not be the best option for everyone.
In rare cases, surgery may be recommended as a treatment option for tongue thrust. This may be necessary if the tongue thrust is caused by a physical abnormality in the mouth or throat, such as a cleft palate or enlarged tonsils. The surgery may involve removing or reshaping tissue in the mouth or throat to improve function and prevent tongue thrust. Surgery is typically only recommended as a last resort when other treatment options have been unsuccessful.
Overall, there are several treatment options available for those with tongue thrust. The best option will depend on the individual’s specific needs and the severity of their condition. It is important to work closely with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best course of treatment for each individual case.
Prevention and Maintenance Strategies for Tongue Thrust
Tongue thrusting is a habit that can be corrected with the right techniques and strategies. In the previous section, we discussed effective ways to fix tongue thrust in English. In this section, we will focus on how to prevent it from occurring and maintaining the progress we have made. Here are some prevention and maintenance strategies for tongue thrust:
1. Speech Therapy
Speech therapy is an excellent way to prevent and maintain proper tongue placement. Working with a speech therapist can help you develop good oral habits and strengthen the muscles that support good tongue posture. Speech therapy involves a variety of exercises and techniques that can be tailored to your needs and goals to ensure the best outcome. Your therapist will work with you to develop a personalized plan that will help you achieve your desired results.
2. Myofunctional Therapy
Myofunctional therapy is another option to prevent and maintain proper tongue posture. It focuses on the muscles of the face, tongue, and throat, and how they function together. By strengthening these muscles, myofunctional therapy can improve tongue positioning, breathing, and swallowing. Patients who have undergone this type of treatment have reported significant improvement in their tongue thrust habits.
3. Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are essential for preventing bad tongue habits and maintaining good ones. Proper breathing promotes good tongue posture and can help prevent mouth breathing. When we breathe through our nose, we engage in a nasal breathing pattern, which keeps our tongue in its natural resting position. Breathing exercises can be done anytime and anywhere, making them a convenient way to maintain good oral habits.
4. Proper Posture
Proper posture is vital in preventing tongue thrust. When we slouch or have poor posture, our tongue is more likely to rest on the bottom of our mouth, leading to a tongue thrust habit. By maintaining good posture, we keep our tongue in its natural resting position, reducing the likelihood of tongue thrust. Incorporating exercises that improve posture may also be helpful in maintaining good tongue posture.
5. Mindful Eating and Drinking
Mindful eating and drinking can also help prevent and maintain good tongue posture. By taking the time to chew our food thoroughly and paying attention to how we swallow, we promote proper tongue positioning. Gulping food or drinking liquid quickly can lead to an improper swallow or tongue thrust. By being mindful of our eating and drinking habits, we can help prevent bad tongue habits from progressing.
Overall, there are several ways to prevent and maintain proper tongue posture. Continuing with good oral habits helps ensure a healthy and functional tongue. These habits may take time to develop, and it is crucial to work with a speech therapist or myofunctional therapist for the best results and guidance.