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What Is a Tongue Thrust?

A tongue.
Braces as well as surgery could resolve problems caused by misaligned teeth.
In some cases, tongue thrusting can be caused by thumb sucking.
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  • Written By: Crystal Cook
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2014
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A tongue thrust is an orofacial myological disorder that can affect the development of a person's teeth and speech. Speech therapy and braces are often needed to correct a tongue thrust, which has many causes. People who have this disorder are often not aware of it, though some may find out during a routine dental appointment.

Also known as an immature swallow or a reverse swallow, a tongue thrust disorder involves the tongue pushing forward past the incisors when a person is swallowing, speaking or, often, doing nothing at all. Young children normally have this kind of swallow. It changes to a normal swallow, in which the tongue is on the roof of the mouth, by the time the child is 6 or 7 years old. It can become a habit if it continues past age 7. This condition normally affects the top front teeth but also can affect other teeth, depending on how serious the condition is.

If a tongue thrust does not correct itself naturally, then it can cause orthodontic problems. The average person swallows around 2,000 times a day. This orofacial muscular imbalance causes the tongue to put from 1 to 6 pounds (0.4 to 2.7 kg) of pressure on the teeth. The teeth are pushed out of place over time and braces may be required to correct the positioning of the teeth. The condition can lead to growth distortions that affect the teeth and the face.

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Speech problems can result from the tongue thrust disorder. It is often the cause of lisps but also can affect certain sounds, including t, d, n, ch, sh, and j. Therapy is often used to train the tongue to sit properly in the mouth and move correctly for speech. Special tongue exercises are used to treat the disorder. If it is very serious, then a more permanent device may have to be used in combination with braces and speech therapy.

Tongue thrust is one of the most common orofacial myological disorders. It can lead to social problems beyond the speech and orthodontic issues. Sufferers may make strange faces when they drink or eat. They also may lick their lips a lot or pucker at strange times, such as when drinking. This can cause them to have difficulties in school, at work and in public in general.

This disorder has many causes. In some cases it is caused by thumb sucking or certain kinds of artificial nipples, such as those found on pacifiers and baby bottles. In other cases, the condition can be hereditary. Allergies and nasal congestion also can contribute. Large tonsils and a condition known as "tongue tie" also may be causes.

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