Tongue thrusting (also sometimes called reverse swallowing or immature swallow) is an orofacial muscular imbalance which causes the tongue to protrude through the anterior incisors during speech, swallowing, and when the tongue is at rest. If unaddressed, it can cause serious orthodontic problems.
Among infants, tongue thrusting is normal until about 6 months. By this point, most babies grow out of it, and this is one sign that they’re ready to start eating baby food.
If tongue thrusting continues beyond the age of 4, however it can cause serious orthodontic problems. For this reason, among others, it's important that children are evaluated by an orthodontist at an early age.
Tongue thrusting can have serious adverse effects on the mouth and teeth. A person swallows 1,200 - 2,000 times a day on average, with each swallow placing about 4 pounds of pressure. Combined with tongue thrusting, this continuous pressure can force the teeth out of alignment.
People who tongue thrust often suffer from open bites and other orthodontic problems. In fact, if tongue thrusting is an unaddressed issue, it may even cause dental and orthodontic issues to relapse after treatment.
Tongue Thrust Treatment
Tongue thrust is treatable in two different ways. A nightguard, or a dental appliance that can only be removed or adjusted by an orthodontist or dentist, can be placed to create a physical barrier that make tongue thrusting more difficult or uncomfortable for the patient.
Or, the patient can undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy. This type of therapy is designed to re-train the muscles associated with swallowing by way of changing the swallowing pattern.