Most people occasionally thrust their tongue forward. Sometimes, it’s out of stress or because of something going on with dental health. But, for some, tongue thrusting is an ongoing problem that can lead to long-term dental health issues. Tongue thrusting happens because the tongue gets into the habit of thrusting forward in the mouth. A tongue thrust habit often occurs when swallowing or speaking, and it’s also a problem when sleeping (similar to grinding one’s teeth).
Diagnosing tongue thrusting when it first begins ensures that the problem does not lead to long-term health issues. It’s also easier to reverse and break the habit when it’s caught earlier. The longer you do it the harder it is to break the habit, much the same as all bad habits!
The average person swallows up to 2000 times per day. Each swallow puts up to five pounds of pressure on the teeth by the tongue. When swallowing unnecessarily becomes a habit or the pressure of thrusting is ongoing, it’s easy to see why problems can arise.
“Tongue thrusting can often be spotted by what’s called an anterior open bite, a situation in which the top and bottom front teeth do not meet together when biting down.”
What Causes Tongue Thrusting?
Tongue thrusting tends to be more common in children than adults, but adults do engage in the habit.
One of the main causes of problems with tongue thrusting is thumb sucking. Sucking on a thumb tens to build the habit of thrusting the tongue forward, which puts a great deal of pressure on the front teeth. Do your best to break your child’s thumb-sucking habit as early as possible. It can be a tough challenge, but your efforts and your child’s willpower will pay off in the long run.
Another habit you’ll want to try to curb for your child is drinking out of baby bottles with artificial nipples. Obviously, if your child still relies on bottle feeding for nutrition it’s not possible to stop. However, if your child is older and still using a bottle for comfort, you should try to wean him or her off the behavior. The rigidity of bottle nipples tends to encourage thrusting that can turn into a habit over time.
Children and adults who breath through their mouths also tend to develop thrusting habits. The same if someone struggles with swallowing issues. Sometimes, if the tonsils or adenoids are enlarged, or a person has frequent sore throats it can trigger a thrusting habit.
There are also tongue thrusting causes that are unrelated to behavior. Anyone with an abnormally large tongue might struggle not to thrust the tongue forward. It’s simply too big to sit comfortably in their mouth. And, if you suffer from a neurological, muscular, or other physiological disorder, you might struggle with thrusting.
There are several different types of tongue thrusting, including:
- Anterior thrusting
- Unilateral thrusting
- Bilateral thrusting
- Bilateral anterior open bit thrusting
- Closed bite thrusting
If you discover you or your child is a tongue thruster, you aren’t alone. It’s estimated that 70 to 90 percent of children under the age of eight have had issues with thrusting. And some estimates show that as many as 80 percent of people who visit the dentist have some issue—mild to moderate—with tongue thrusting.
How Can You Treat Tongue Thrusting?
If you’re an adult and you notice you are a tongue thruster, the solution might be as simple as curbing the habit. Easier said than done, of course, especially if you’re problem with thrusting occurs when you’re asleep. However, it can help to focus on whether you’re thrusting, stop yourself when you notice it’s happening, and really make an effort not to push your tongue forward. Working on breaking the habit during waking hours can help you keep things in check when sleeping.
If the problem is severe and you’re finding it tough to break the habit, or you’re dealing with a child who is tongue thrusting, you have a few options.
Correcting the problem using myofunctinoal therapy or tongue therapy is often a successful option for breaking the habit of thrusting and preventing problems it can cause. The therapy uses an exercise technique that re-educates the tongue muscles. It’s a lot like physical therapy except it focuses on the tongue as opposed to arms or legs or other body parts.
Most people work with a speech therapist to learn the exercises in myofunctional therapy and then they practice the exercises on their own at home. How long a person must participate in tongue therapy depends on the severity of the problem and how well the patient responds to therapy.
If therapy doesn’t work or if your doctor or dentist believes additional efforts are needed in addition to therapy, a custom appliance might be made to prevent thrusting. The device is designed and created by your dentist or orthodontist. Many who work to correct tongue thrusting behavior believe that the device alone will not be enough to cure the problem because it does not retrain the tongue. A combination of therapies usually works best.
How Do You Know You or Your Child Has a Problem with Thrusting?
You’ll know you have a problem with thrusting just by paying attention to your behavior, assuming you do it while you’re awake. If you’re thrusting in your sleep you might not even realize it until your dentist notices a problem with your teeth.
In children, tongue thrusting often produces speech problems or the child often has an open mouth with the tongue resting against the teeth. It might look as if your child’s tongue is too big for their mouth.
Mouth breathing in those without allergies or nasal problems can also be an indication of tongue thrusting. Thrusting the tongue tends to block the airway so you can’t breathe normally through your nose. If you notice you or your child has cracked or chapped lips from breathing through your mouth, your mouth is dry, or you just know that you breathe through your mouth, it could actually mean you have an issue with thrusting.
Tongue thrusting might seem like a minor concern, but it can lead to big problems down the road. The sooner you address it the better.