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What Does It Mean to Be a Tongue Thruster?

What Does It Mean to Be a Tongue Thruster?

Tongue thrusting, also known as reverse swallow or immature swallow, is an oral disorder. The condition causes an abnormal muscle habit in which your tongue protrudes toward the front or side when you swallow or speak. It can also affect your tongue at rest. 

While tongue thrusting is common in infants, it can adversely affect the teeth and mouth in children and adults. Having the continuous pressure of your tongue against your teeth can force your teeth out of normal alignment, cause speech issues, or reverse previous orthodontic work. 

Tongue thrusting in children and adults can often be corrected with an oral appliance. Dentist Eric R. Koch, DDS, and the team at Advanced Dental Care of East Texas in Jasper specialize in using airway-focused orthodontics, including ClearCorrect® aligners and the Tréz MaxComfort system, to correct the effects of tongue thrusting and prevent adverse effects from the habit. 

Understanding tongue thrusting 

While infants have a swallowing pattern that involves the protrusion of the tongue, or tongue thrusting, when they are bottle or breastfed, they typically lose this reflex by six months. The timing aligns with the development of baby molars and an infant’s readiness to consume solid foods. 

When an infant begins to eat solid foods, they learn to place the tip of their tongue at the back of the top front teeth and along the roof of the mouth during swallowing. That positions the tongue to move food backward in a wave-like motion. 

When tongue thrusting remains, the tongue pushes excessively against the lower teeth or protrudes between the teeth when swallowing. As a result, people affected may chew and swallow with their mouths open and show food when they eat.

While the tendency toward tongue thrusting usually resolves within the first year, it’s also common for school-age children to have tongue thrust past the infant years. The habit can lead to a forward tongue resting position or abnormal swallowing habit in adulthood if it was never corrected in the earlier years. 

Causes of tongue thrusting

Several factors can contribute to the prevalence of tongue thrusting past infancy. Issues related to abnormal tongue characteristics and breathing issues can contribute to the condition. 

Common causes of tongue thrusting in children and adults include:

Problems caused by tongue thrusting

Tongue thrusting past infancy can result in several problems that can interfere with oral appearance and function. These signs of tongue thrusting include:

When tongue thrusting continues into adulthood, the inability to close the mouth and swallow normally can result in an elongated facial structure or appearance. 

Treating tongue thrusting

Tongue thrusting can be resolved with proper treatment at any age. Orthodontic treatment usually provides adequate correction for tongue thrusters in older children and adults.

At Advanced Dental Care of East Texas, Dr. Koch uses ClearCorrect aligners and the Tréz MaxComfort system to treat tongue thrusting. These treatments use airway-focused orthodontics, which focuses on achieving an ideal jaw relationship, establishing normal oral function and performance, and optimal contact of teeth. The central aspect of the treatment is normal function and performance of the airway and breathing.

Other forms of treatment may include myofunctional therapy or tongue therapy to break the habit of tongue thrusting, comparable to physical therapy that focuses on the tongue. Speech therapy may also be necessary.

If you have signs of tongue thrusting, getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment are key to resolving the issue. Call our office today to schedule an appointment or reach out to our team online.

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