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Tongue Thrusting
  • Introduction
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    INTRODUCTION
    Imagine the result of applying up to six pounds of pressure to your front teeth approximately 2,000 times each day - every day.

    This is what happens to people with the habit of tongue thrusting.

    During a normal swallow, the tongue is placed on the roof of the mouth. However, a "tongue thruster" instead will push the tongue forward against the front teeth when swallowing, exerting one to six pounds of pressure against the structure of the mouth. And he or she will do it nearly once every 43 seconds.

    As a result, the front teeth are pushed forward into abnormal positions, causing an open bite (where front teeth don't connect), as well as gapping.

    Other problems that might also occur as a result of tongue thrusting include:

    • Speech defects
    • Premature wrinkling (caused by facial grimace when swallowing)
    • A tendency for the lower jaw to fall back from the upper
    • A high arched palate
    • Muscles of the lips and neck becoming too relaxed
    • Elongation of the nose and abnormal airway path
    Nearly all infants are born tongue thrusters. However, most children will grow out of tongue thrust swallowing and adopt a normal swallowing pattern by the time they're six. Only 3% of children will continue to tongue thrust by age 12.

    Unfortunately, tongue thrusting is a habit that's difficult to notice - even the people doing it might not realize it. Usually it will be first recognized by the family dentist because of irregular positioning of teeth. Or it may be detected by a speech pathologist when a child has difficulty making certain sounds.

    Yet there are symptoms you can look for:
    • Difficulty with speech, especially the "s" and "z" sound
    • A facial grimace and/or pursing of the lips when swallowing
    • When at rest (while watching TV or reading, for example), the mouth hangs open and the tongue is pushed forward
    • Open-mouth breathing
    Both children and adults can be treated for tongue thrusting (although it's easier when the problem is detected early). The condition can usually be corrected in three to six months depending on the severity of the condition.

    Afterward, teeth can be straightened and speech improved. However, if the tongue thrusting behavior is not corrected, no amount of orthodontic treatment or speech therapy will be beneficial.

    So if you are concerned that a child or an adult is a tongue thruster, contact your orthodontist and find out what procedures her or she recommends to break the habit, first. Then whatever damage there is can be repaired.

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