What Is a Tongue Thrust?

Crystal Cook

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.

A tongue.
A tongue.

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.

In some cases, tongue thrusting can be caused by thumb sucking.
In some cases, tongue thrusting can be caused by thumb sucking.

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.

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.

Braces as well as surgery could resolve problems caused by misaligned teeth.
Braces as well as surgery could resolve problems caused by misaligned teeth.

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Discussion Comments


@bear78-- My son went to both speech therapy and therapy for tongue thrust and both were immensely helpful. I highly recommend therapy. And if you go through your GP, it shouldn't be expensive. It wasn't in our case.

My son had speech issues as well due to the tongue thrust. So he went for the tongue thrust therapy first and then speech therapy. The tongue thrust therapy is not difficult but it does require patience and you have to stick to the program. We didn't see the doctor every week, but we were given a set of exercises to do for a certain period of time every single day. We had doctor visits every couple of weeks or so for her to check on his progress.

If you go through the whole program and follow the directions for the exercises, it works. Many people don't follow through and slack off with the exercises and then claim that the therapy doesn't work. The child has to put in an effort and the parent has to supervise. Of course it won't work if the child doesn't do the exercises.


@bear78-- It didn't work much for my daughter. She ended up wearing a retainer to correct her tongue thrust. I can't say I recommend therapy, but then again, it could be just our experience. Maybe it'll work for your child. You might want to try it.


Has anyone here tried therapy for their child's tongue thrust? Does it work?

Our GP suggested it for my daughter who has a mild tongue thrust. Her speech is okay for the most part but she has issues swallowing and the tongue being in the wrong position. I think therapy is going to cost a lot so I want to make sure that it will actually help her before I save aside money for it.

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