learn to swallow by thrusting their tongue forward, and this is normal for them
to be able to nurse efficiently. As babies grow into toddlers and learn to
drink from cups and glasses, the way they swallow usually changes. (With normal
swallowing, the tongue pushes against the roof of their mouth.)
Most children learn
how to swallow normally by the time they are 6 years old. But sometimes they have
difficulty with changing how they swallow, and they continue to push their
tongue against their teeth. The result is a disorder called tongue thrust.
may seem like harmless behavior, but when you consider that people may swallow
up to 2000 times each day, the accumulating pressure from the tongue can force
the teeth out of alignment.
identified several factors that may contribute to tongue thrusting, including:
Excessive thumb sucking: This habit also leads to an open bite or abnormalities with the teeth
coming together properly.
Heredity: The facial structure of nerves, muscles, and bones may affect the
tendency for tongue thrusting. For example, an inherited tendency for a long,
narrow face may increase the chances to have tongue thrusting, due to how the
Physical development: Problems with the child's natural facial and oral development may have an
impact on tongue thrusting. It also may develop due to a shortened lingual
frenum (the tissue beneath the tongue), an enlarged tongue, large tonsils or
If you are
concerned that your child may be tongue thrusting, watch for these behaviors:
Problems with swallowing: Does your child have problems with swallowing? Does your child make a face
or purse the lips when swallowing?
Mouth breathing: Does your child tend to breathe through the mouth? Does your child
frequently suffer from allergies, throat infections or nasal congestion?
Speech: Does your child have difficulty with pronouncing s and z
Open mouth: When relaxing (for example, while sitting and reading or watching TV),
does your child's mouth hang open with the tongue forward?
When your child
comes in for a regular dental examination, we may be able to identify tongue
thrust symptoms early on, particularly if your child is developing an open
bite. We will be happy to discuss treatment options to help this problem.
treatment options for your child may include:
Exercises for the lips, tongue and
jaw to train your child to swallow and pronounce correctly
Appliances to help prevent tongue
thrusting or to help expand the palate as it develops
Orthodontic procedures to realign the
teeth and adjust the bite
Some people may
question orthodontic treatment for young children. However, it's important to
understand that by the time children are 5 years old, their faces have 70% of
their adult proportions. By the time they are 12 to 14 years old, children's
faces have nearly 100% of their adult proportions. The American Association of
Orthodontists recommends that children have their first orthodontic examination
by the age of 7, to help prevent problems from developing later.
We may also
recommend that you consult a speech pathologist. A good speech pathologist can
help your child with oral exercises to improve both the physical and
pronunciation problems associated with tongue thrusting.