Tongue thrust is a pattern in which the tongue protrudes through the front teeth during swallowing, speech, and while the tongue is at rest. Nearly all young children exhibit a swallowing pattern involving tongue protrusion, but by the age of six, most have switched to a normal swallowing pattern. People who tongue thrust do it naturally and are usually unaware of the behavior.
There are many possible causes for tongue thrust, some of which are interrelated. One of the most likely causes is mouth breathing. People with large tonsils/adenoids, nasal obstructions, or allergies often have difficulty breathing easily and consistently through the nose. When the lips are parted to breathe, there is a gravitational pull downward on the tongue. As a result, the tongue shifts from the correct position on the upper hard palate to a lowered, more forward position.
There are various types of tongue thrust, depending on the location and direction of the tongue pressure exerted on the teeth. A diagnosis by a qualified professional will ultimately determine the plan for treatment.
Persistent tongue thrust leads to dental malocclusions, such as shifting of teeth and a bad bite. Normal tooth alignment can be altered due to the constant pressure of the tongue against the teeth. Speech can also be affected. A person with abnormal swallowing patterns may suffer a lisp or have difficulty articulating some sounds.
Another potential consequence involves the muscles of the face. Because the muscles of the face, lips, and throat are not being used correctly, a dull or sluggish appearance and full, weak lips can develop.
The good news is that the majority of tongue thrust problems can be corrected. A simple appliance similar to a nightguard can treat the problems caused by tongue thrust. The appliance is worn in the mouth at night. Alternatively, the patient may wear a more permanent device that can be removed and adjusted by an orthodontist.
The optimum age for treatment is seven years of age and older. If the child is not ready to begin treatment, suggestions can be offered for making positive changes that may help correct some of the underlying behaviors (i.e. mouth breathing, thumb & finger sucking, etc.) Eliminating these underlying behaviors early any shorten and enhance successful treatment when the child is older.
For a complimentary examination appointment to see if you have a dental alignment problem and what treatment would be right for you, please contact us online or call 650-961-5047.
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