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Can Tongue Thrust Be Corrected?

It’s hard to imagine that the position of the tongue can cause issues. However, when the tongue is constantly pressing forward in the mouth, it leads to something called “tongue thrust”. This issue is most common in children but can also occur in adults if not caught soon enough. It is a retained primitive reflex from when a person is a baby, and if something is preventing it from sticking around, it can cause a huge problem!   It can lead to orthodontic issues such as an open bite, as well as problems swallowing, eating and breathing. Even head and shoulder tension.  Here we look at tongue thrust more closely and whether it can be corrected.

What is Tongue Thrust?

Tongue thrust, or in medical terms orofacial/myofunctional disorder (OMD), is a disorder where the tongue is always lying too far forward, up against the teeth, even during rest. People with tongue thrust tend to have the tongue up against their teeth or protruding between their upper teeth and lower teeth when speaking and swallowing, or even at rest.

We swallow thousands of times per day, and when the strong muscle of the tongue are putting pressure on the teeth instead of the palate, we will often see the jaw develop long and narrow too.

Tongue thrust places constant pressure on the teeth, which can force them out of alignment over time. It can also cause more pressure than normal when swallowing. Some people might also have “nervous thrusting,” pushing their tongue involuntarily against their teeth when they are stressed.  

The tongue is also connected to the free floating hyoid bone, which connects to the muscles of the neck and shoulders.  If the swallow pattern is FORWARD, not UP, it puts unnecessary pressure on these muscles too, causing head and neck pain and forward head posture.

What Signs and Symptoms Typically Accompany It?

There are a number of signs and symptoms that accompany tongue thrust, including:

  • The tongue protrudes against or between the teeth during speech for the letters s, z, t, d, n, l, sh
  • The mouth remains open with the lips parted during rest
  • Mouth breathing
  • Loud eating and chewing
  • Messy eating
  • Neck and shoulder tension
  • The tongue can be seen at the front of the mouth or between the teeth when swallowing or speaking
  • Sore, chapped, or cracked lips
  • Jaw or jaw joint pain
  • Orthodontic relapse
  • Protruding teeth or open bite
  • Issues with breastfeeding in infants
  • Facial and jaw pain

If you or your child have these symptoms, you should seek medical advice on possible therapies to help correct it.

Can Tongue Thrust Be Corrected In Infants?

In infants, tongue thrust appears when feeding. It can be more difficult to spot in infants as they naturally thrust their tongues forward to help them swallow and seal their airway. However, if tongue thrust continues into their toddler years because the reflex is retained, it can lead to dental, swallowing and speech issues. In most cases, tongue thrust is lost by the time the baby is weaned. If it continues beyond their weaning years, it is considered OMD. 

In severe cases for infants, it can interfere with breastfeeding, causing retained infantile swallow. If your infant seems to struggle with feeding, it’s important to meet with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to help identify the cause of the issue. If it is OMD, without the correction, it can last into adulthood and can only be corrected with myofunctional therapy.

Can Tongue Thrust Be Corrected In Adults?

Myofunctional therapy is an individualized program provided by a certified medical professional. The therapy is designed to retrain your orofacial muscles to improve function. Using a series of exercises prescribed to suit your specific needs, the therapy can be used to improve your tongue’s resting position. As a result, you can gain normalized tongue and lip posturing, improved breathing, and reduce symptoms of OMD including speaking and eating difficulties.

If you are wondering what can be done for a tongue thrust, schedule your next appointment with Dr. Elizabeth Turner here and she’ll get to know you and evaluate your unique needs.

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