What is Tongue Thrust?
Tongue Thrust refers to the habit of thrusting or pushing the tongue towards the front of the mouth, between the lower and upper teeth when swallowing, speaking, and when the tongue is at rest. Correct positioning of the tongue during these involves the tip of the tongue pushing or pressing against the gums directly above the back of the front upper teeth. Tongue thrust can also be referred to as orofacial muscular imbalance. While it is relatively common for children to display a pattern of swallowing that involves the protrusion of the tongue between the front teeth, most children by the age of 6 have transitioned naturally to a more normal tongue placement and swallowing pattern. If you or a loved one is affected by tongue thrust, get help today by scheduling your free introductory call!
How Does Tongue Thrust Affect Speech?
The most common effect of tongue thrust, if left untreated, is misaligned or malformed teeth. When the tongue is constantly putting pressure on the back of the upper front teeth, these teeth can move forward. This can result in what is referred to as an ‘open bite’ or a significant gap between the front upper and lower teeth. Tongue thrust that isn’t treated can result in long-term damage to speech and language development. Articulation disorders are among the most commonly seen speech disorders in children with tongue thrusts. Tongue thrust can also result in a change to the shape of the face, making it appear elongated, and the tongue may appear to protrude from between the front teeth.
What Causes Tongue Thrust?
It is not always clear what causes tongue thrust, and in many cases, tongue thrust can be the result of a variety of factors. Speech challenges related to tongue thrusts can be serious, and if an effective speech therapy program is not followed, they can become worse over time. Most experts agree that tongue thrusting is the result of one or a combination of several factors. The most common of these factors are:
Upper Airway Constriction – In many cases, the absence or inability to breathe through the nose is the result of frequent or unresolved infections in the upper respiratory system or other constrictions or obstructions such as chronic nasal congestion or a deviated septum.
Improper Habits – Prolonged use of items such as pacifiers, bottles, and sippy cups can contribute to the development of tongue thrust. Other habits such as thumb or finger sucking, biting or chewing nails and/or cuticles, sucking on the tongue, lips, or cheeks, or teeth clenching/grinding can be significant factors as well.
Physical or Structural Abnormalities – In some cases, tongue thrust is the result of a physiological difference such as a lip/tongue tie or a low lying, forward position of the tongue.
Genetic Predisposition – For some people affected by tongue thrust, genetics are a contributing factor. The shape and structure of the cranial bones, jaw, and teeth as well as inherited health issues such as seasonal allergies can certainly contribute to the development or progression of tongue thrusting and other orofacial myofunctional disorders.
Developmental Delay – Sometimes tongue thrusting is related to a developmental difference as a result of such disorders like cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy.
Learn more about tongue thrusting and how speech therapy can help by scheduling your free introductory call today!
How Do I Stop My Child From Tongue Thrusting?
One of the best resources for fixing tongue thrust in a child or adult is time with a registered speech and language pathologist. Even if the tongue thrust hasn’t affected speech abilities, speech therapists are experts in teaching the correct placement of the tongue when speaking, swallowing, and at rest. Training the tongue to find the correct position each time can reduce or eliminate the effect on the teeth, prevent misalignment of the teeth and correct or prevent the development of an articulation disorder.
When Should You Start Tongue Thrust Therapy?
While it is relatively normal for children under the age of six to exhibit tongue thrust when speaking, swallowing, or at rest if the tongue thrust persists beyond that age, it is best to seek support. After the age of six, baby teeth begin to be replaced by adult teeth, and tongue thrust can affect the establishment of the adult teeth and proper alignment.
Do Speech Therapists Treat Tongue Thrust?
Speech therapists are highly trained and experienced in helping someone remediate their tongue thrust habit. While each case is different, speech and language pathologists possess a wealth of strategies, exercises, and tips to help someone strongly establish proper tongue placement and swallowing patterns.
What Exercises Fix Tongue Thrust? How Can Speech Therapy Help with Tongue Thrust?
To correct tongue thrusting and improper swallowing patterns, speech pathologists employ the use of various exercises that are designed to promote a normal swallowing pattern, tongue placement, and proper speech production. During the initial evaluation session, the speech therapist may administer swallowing and articulation tests to see where the challenges lie. In some cases where only “pure” tongue thrust is indicated without any articulation problems, then three to five sessions may be enough.
The speech and language pathologist will then assign a core set of exercises and drills that will work against tongue thrusts and can be done on a daily basis for at least two months. The speech therapist will work closely with the patient to establish realistic goals, and support and encourage them as they work to remediate the tongue-thrusting habit.
In the case of articulation problems such as misarticulated consonants (most commonly: /s/ , /z/ , /sh/ , /ch/ , /ts/) – then the speech therapist will work on correcting each sound while simultaneously doing the same oral physiotherapy. The good news is that with dedication and commitment, tongue thrust (and any accompanying articulation challenges) can be corrected with the guidance and support of a qualified and experienced speech and language pathologist. Help is nearby – don’t delay. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today!