Tongue thrusting (otherwise known as reverse swallowing or immature swallow) is an orofacial muscular imbalance. It causes the tongue to protrude through the anterior incisors during speech, swallowing, and when the tongue is at rest. If unaddressed, it can lead to serious orthodontic problems.
For infants, tongue thrusting is normal until about the age of 6 months. Most babies grow out of it after this point, a sign that they’re ready to start eating baby food.
If tongue thrust continues past the age of 4 though, it can cause serious orthodontic problems. For this reason, among others, even young children can benefit from orthodontic evaluation at an early age.
Tongue thrusting can have serious adverse effects on the teeth and mouth. The average person swallows 1,200 - 2,000 times a day, and each of those swallows places about 4 pounds of pressure each time. This continuous pressure can force the teeth out of alignment if tongue thrusting is an issue.
People who tongue thrust often suffer from open bites and other orthodontic problems. In some cases, if tongue thrusting is unaddressed, it can even cause dental and orthodontic issues to relapse after treatment has already been completed
Tongue Thrust Treatment
There are two main ways tongue thrust can be treated. A nightguard or a more permanent dental appliance can be placed.
This type of physical barrier makes tongue thrusting more difficult and uncomfortable for the patient, and so will eventually reverse the habit.
Or, the patient can undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy. This therapy is designed to re-train the muscles associated with swallowing by actually changing the swallowing pattern.