What Is Tongue Thrust & How to Stop Tongue Thrusting?

Tongue thrust is a condition when the tongue pushes forward too much when swallowing or even when resting
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Certified specialist with 5 years of extensive dental and orthodontic experience
What is Tongue Thrust in Adults: Signs, Affect on Face & Teeth, How to stop?

What Is Tongue Thrust?

Tongue thrust is a condition when the tongue pushes forward too much when swallowing or even when resting. Normally, when you swallow, your tongue should go up on the roof of the mouth. While tongue thrusting makes it end up between the front teeth or pressed against them. Such tongue position leads to teeth malocclusion in most cases. Tongue thrust most often manifests in children, but, if not treated earlier, it can be an issue in adults. 

An image of tongue thrust

What Kind of Issues Can Tongue Thrust Lead to?

Although some of us don't even notice we’re tongue thrusting, it leads to serious disorders requiring treatment. Tongue thrust often results in bite and teeth issues, and facial structure changes. 

Tongue thrust causes an open bite

When the tongue ends up between the front teeth, it forces them to move. Thus, teeth misalignment causes bite troubles. Open bite is a common result of tongue thrusting. Open bite is a condition when the front teeth don’t touch when the mouth is closed, creating a gap between the front upper and lower teeth. 

An open bite is not only about facial aesthetics, it can be harmful to teeth wear and proper chewing. Moreover, speech also might be affected by the open bite, resulting in lisping. 

An open bite image
An open bite image

Effects of tongue thrust on the teeth

The tongue-thrusting habit has a major effect on the teeth. Due to the constant tongue pushing between the front teeth, they can’t help but deform with time. As a result, tongue thrusting leads to dental problems requiring orthodontic interference.

Among the effects of tongue thrust on the teeth there are:

  • Protrusion of the front teeth
  • Gaps in the dental arch
  • Gaps between lower and upper teeth
  • Bite issues - overbite, underbite, open bite
  • Narrowed upper arch

Effects of tongue thrust on the face

Tongue thrusting inevitably affects facial structure due to dental and swallowing troubles. The face then tends to elongate similarly to the mouthbreather’s face structure. It happens because the tongue thrust doesn’t let you close the mouth and follow a proper swallowing pattern. As a result, the lower jaw goes down, the palate narrows down together with the dental arches. These features created a long face that usually looks tired. 

Long face from tongue thrusting

Signs of Tongue Thrust

The first signs of tongue thrust usually manifest in childhood. The most common symptoms of a tongue thrust include:

  • Visible tongue between the front teeth during speaking, eating or resting
  • Speech impediments - the most common is lisping the letters S, Z
  • Inability to keep the lips sealed
  • Mouth breathing (doesn’t necessarily mean tongue thrust, but it can be one of the symptoms)

Causes of Tongue Thrust

As infants almost every one of us tends to tongue thrust, it’s normal within being breastfed. Yet, if the tongue-thrusting habit continues it leads to unpleasant consequences in adulthood. 

So, what are the main causes of tongue thrust?

  • Sucking habits. When the habit of sucking a pacifier, bottle nipple, thumb, finger, or tongue lasts into childhood, it causes tongue thrust.
  • Allergies associated with swollen tonsils or adenoids.
  • Tongue-tie. It’s a condition when the stripe of skin under the tongue connecting it to the mouth bottom is too short or tight.

These are the tongue thrust causes that mostly manifest in childhood. Yet a person may face a tongue thrusting problem in adult age. 

  • Stress and anxiety. When talking about tongue thrust in adults, it may happen during sleeping, when the mouth is open and the tongue is uncontrolled. Such sleeping behavior is often a result of anxiety and stress. 
  • Hereditary factor, when tongue thrust runs in family
  • Genetically larger tongue than normal
Thumb sucking is one of the causes of tongue thrust

Tongue thrust in adults

A person may face a tongue thrusting problem in adult age if the childhood tongue thrusting habit was not treated. However, there are cases when tongue thrust begins in adult age. The causes of thrusting are usually the same as in children, so the signs are also similar.

Signs of tongue thrust in adults

  • Mouth breathing
  • Elongated face structure due to open mouth and incorrect swallowing
  • Larger tongue than normal
  • An open bite that prevents normal swallowing

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How to stop tongue thrust?

The first step on the way to stopping tongue thrust is proper diagnostics. If you suspect having tongue thrust or notice some symptoms in your kid, it’s recommended to visit a specialist. Tongue thrusting is a condition that can be diagnosed by one of the following doctors:

  • Speech therapist
  • General practitioner
  • Dentist
  • Orthodontist

The doctor offers a treatment that may include:

  • a tongue thrust appliance, 
  • orthodontic procedure, 
  • speech correction,
  • all the options in serious cases.

Tongue Thrust Therapy

Before orthodontic treatment, it’s important to eliminate any impediments preventing successful therapy. For example, if any nasal issues require surgical interference or ongoing allergies. Such problems should be addressed before correcting tongue thrust, swallowing, and speech issues. 

Orthodontic Tongue Thrust Treatment

A popular method of tongue thrust treatment is a “tongue crib”, which is mostly used for children. It's an orthodontic appliance with two rings and wiring that helps to correct tongue thrust and open bite. Also, tongue cribs are useful to wean a kid from thumb sucking, as the tool makes it uncomfortable. It can be applied as a night guard for tongue thrust, preventing tongue thrusting during sleep.

Adults can also undergo orthodontic treatment. Especially to eliminate the damage of tongue thrusting. They apply braces to correct crooked teeth and use appliances to treat bite disorders. 

A tongue crib
A tongue crib

Do-It-Yourself Remedies

Not every case of tongue thrusting needs professional treatment. Thus, everyone can train themselves to keep the tongue in the correct position with DIY remedies.

Try the following remedy to get used to placing your tongue properly and train the correct swallowing pattern. All you need is a small sugar-free candy.

  1. Place the candy on the tip of the tongue
  2. Press it against the roof of your mouth
  3. Keep your teeth together and lips apart
  4. Swallow while keeping that position with your teeth together

Repeat regularly to form a habit of proper swallowing. Such a remedy also helps to train the tongue muscles, which will make it easier with time. 

Tongue Thrust Speech Therapy

Some may consider speech-language pathologists to deal only with speech impediments. Yet they can be very helpful when treating tongue thrust. The specialists offer exercises to promote correct tongue posture and swallowing patterns. Also, if there are any articulation issues, they can be addressed with adequate regular exercises. Speech therapy is also aimed to eliminate habits like thumb sucking.

Myofunctional Therapy is Another Option

Myofunctional therapy appears to be one of the most effective tongue thrust treatments. This kind of therapy is aimed to treat any functional issues with the tongue and face. Orofacial myofunctional therapy uses various exercises to form proper breathing and swallowing habits. As well as strengthen facial muscles and oral health. 

The positive impact of applying myofunctional therapy to treat tongue thrust was reviewed in the National Center for Biotechnology Information. According to the study, orofacial myofunctional therapy:

  • improves swallowing, 
  • tongue posture, 
  • muscle function,
  • helps to preserve the results of orthodontic treatment.

Here are a few myofunctional exercises for tongue thrust:

  1. Lip competency: Put a piece of cardboard between your lips and hold it tightly for 5 seconds, then repeat a few times.
  2. Whistling: use a whistle or put your lips like that and hold in that position. It helps to improve cheek and perioral muscles.
  3. Tongue clicking: Snap the tongue down making a clicking noise.
  4. Reaching nose and chin: Try to reach the tip of your nose with your tongue, then do the same with your chin. Repeat 10 times.

Tongue Thrust F.A.Q.:

Q: Can you treat tongue thrust with braces?

Yes, because if the tongue thrust is not treated, the results of braces won’t stay for long. Crooked teeth are a consequence, while tongue thrust is the main problem. To get a good result from orthodontic treatment, the main problem should be eliminated. 

Q: Does the tongue affect orthodontic treatment?

Yes, improper tongue position can affect the dental arch. Correct tongue posture is important to keep the result of the orthodontic treatment.

List of resources:

  1. https://youtu.be/IZKRT8liqFA
  2. https://youtu.be/j9RfQPC1IlY
  3. https://www.hamiltondentalgroup.com/tongue-thrusting.htm
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/open-bite#side-effects
  5. http://zendental.in/2018/04/20/what-is-tongue-thrust-and-how-does-it-effect-your-teeth-2/
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/tongue-thrust#in-babies
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tongue-tie/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/children/what-is-a-tongue-crib
  9. https://saxeortho.com/what-is-tongue-thrusting-how-can-it-be-fixed/
  10. https://therapytreeaz.com/tongue-thrust-101-a-plain-english-guide-for-parents/
  11. https://elitedentalofsi.com/blogs/stop-tongue-thrust/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8343673/
  13. https://www.kenmoremyo.com/tongue-thrust-and-orthodontics

Written by
Victoria Punda
June 7, 2022