In infancy, tongue thrust is a natural reflex that happens when something touches the baby’s mouth. This reflex causes the tongue to push out to help the baby breast or bottle-feed.
As the child gets older, their swallowing habits naturally change and this reflex goes away.
But what happens when tongue thrust continues after infancy into childhood? What problems can this cause for a child?
Tongue thrust can be a worry for dentists and parents because too much pressure on the inside of teeth without the proper amount of pressure on the outside from the lips can cause misalignment of the teeth.
Having misaligned teeth can cause problems with chewing, cause more frequent cavities or gingivitis because the teeth are harder to keep clean, increase the risk of a tooth breaking, and make you feel self-conscious.
Tongue thrust has a number of telltale signs that manifest in children who have developed the pattern. These can include:
- The tongue is visible between the teeth. The tip of the tongue sticks out between the teeth, whether the child is resting, swallowing, or speaking.
- Mouth breathing.
- Inability to close the lips completely. This could be due to a structural abnormality or habit.
- Open bite. An open bite occurs when the front teeth don’t meet when the teeth are closed.
- Slow, fast, or messy eating.
- Speech impediment. Lisping of s and z sounds is common.
When to seek treatment
- If your child has an open bite, or you think that they have a tongue thrusting problem, you can schedule a consultation with us. We will evaluate your child to determine if tongue thrusting is the primary problem. In some instances, there can be another problem causing the tongue thrusting. In that case, the underlying problem would also need to be treated.
- Depending on your child’s age, the severity of the symptoms and effects on their developing mouth, we may choose to wait and see if they begin to grow out of it. We may also recommend exercises that you can use at home or appliances (tongue crib) to correct the tongue-thrusting habit. Treatment for underlying problems or other orthodontic issues may also be necessary.