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Tongue Thrust: Only Part of the Story

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

I receive many calls from parents telling me they are concerned about their child’s tongue thrust. Because there is some confusion about what a tongue thrust really is, I wanted to explain things and clear up some possible misconceptions.

Tongue thrust, now known as an incorrect tongue resting posture and swallowing pattern, is the most common orofacial myofunctional disorderOrofacial myofunctional disorders involve inappropriate muscle function and incorrect habits involving the lips, tongue and jaw.  Although many assume that tongue thrust causes dental malocclusions, it is actually abnormal tongue rest position (tongue tip against or between the teeth) that can result in improper orofacial development and misalignment of teeth. This is because only light, continuous pressure is needed to move teeth, whereas the amount of pressure exerted by the tongue during a swallow is not sufficient to move them out of a normal position. That said, a tongue thrust and forward rest posture of the tongue often occur together.  And when they do, a malocclusion is likely to result. Not all people with a tongue thrust will need treatment since “thrusting” alone does not cause malocclusions. However, a tongue thrust should be corrected when it presents a cosmetic problem or when accompanied by abnormal tongue rest posture.

Restoring a normal rest posture of the tongue and lips and eliminating an incorrect swallowing pattern can:

  • Guide the teeth into a more desirable relationship during the growth and development years.

  • Assist the orthodontist in aligning the teeth and jaws properly.

  • Assist stabilization of the teeth during and/or after orthodontic treatment and/or surgery.

  • Enhance overall appearance.

The primary goal of orofacial myofunctional therapy when treating children is to re-establish a normal oral environment in which normal processes of dental eruption can be achieved.  For adults, the goal is to normalize oral postures and functions to create stability in the dental arches.

Here are some signs and symptoms of an incorrect swallowing pattern:

  • Tongue rests forward in the mouth and/or against the upper or lower teeth.

  • Lips apart posture.

  • Tongue moves forward when eating or drinking.

  • Tongue comes forward to meet cup or utensil

  • Lips press together during the swallow.

  • Chewing with lips apart.Messy and noisy eating.

  • Producing  s, z, n, l, t, d, ch, sh or j with tongue between the upper and lower teeth.

Studies have shown that treatment for orofacial myofunctional disorders can be 80-90% effective in correcting swallowing and rest posture functions, and that these corrections are usually maintained years after completing therapy.

  • Children as young as 4 years old can be seen for an evaluation.

  • Children 7-8 years old are often candidates to receive orofacial myofunctional therapy.

  • Teenagers and adults are capable of success in treatment.

At Bodylink Speech Therapy, we provide evaluation and treatment of orofacial myofunctional disorders for children, teenagers and adults.  So if you are concerned that either you or your child may have an orofacial myofunctional disorder, please contact us today.

About Monica Lowy

Bodylink Speech Therapy is a private speech therapy practice founded by Monica Lowy, M.A., CCC-SLP, TSHH, APP. Ms. Lowy earned a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at New York University in 1996 and has been a New York State licensed clinician for 16 years. Learn More »

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