Tongue thrust is a common yet often overlooked condition that can have a significant impact on a child’s oral and dental development. At the Center for Orofacial Myology, we are dedicated to helping parents and patients understand and effectively manage this orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD). In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of tongue thrust, its causes, symptoms, and the various treatment options available.

What is Tongue Thrust?
Tongue thrust, also known as an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), is a condition characterized by the abnormal forward positioning of the tongue during rest, swallowing, and speech. Instead of resting in its proper position behind the upper front teeth, the tongue protrudes forward or thrusts against or between the teeth, creating undue pressure and interfering with proper oral function.

Causes of Tongue Thrust
There are several potential causes of tongue thrust, each contributing to the development of this condition:

  1. Prolonged Thumb or Finger Sucking, or Extended Pacifier Use: These habits can cause the tongue to adopt an abnormal forward position during rest and swallowing, as the presence of an object in the mouth forces the tongue downward and forward.
  2. Upper Airway Obstruction: Conditions such as enlarged tonsils, adenoids, allergies, or nasal obstructions can make nasal breathing difficult, forcing the jaw and tongue to move forward to open the airway and facilitate breathing through the mouth.
  3. Missing Teeth or Open Bite: When the upper and lower teeth do not meet properly due to missing teeth or an open bite, it can contribute to or result from a tongue thrust, as the tongue seeks to fill the gap.
  4. Poor Oral Muscle Strength or Tone: Low muscle strength or tone in the oral cavity can cause the jaw to drop, mouth to open, and tongue to move forward, perpetuating the tongue thrust habit.
  5. Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition or family history of oral and facial structures that promote a forward tongue position, increasing their likelihood of developing tongue thrust.

Symptoms of Tongue Thrust
While tongue thrust may initially seem innocuous, it can lead to a range of oral and dental issues if left untreated. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  1. Abnormal Swallowing and Biting: During swallowing, the tongue moves forward abnormally, causing difficulty in biting and chewing food properly. An open bite, where the upper and lower teeth do not meet, can further exacerbate this issue.
  2. Dental Issues: The persistent pressure of the tongue against the front teeth can cause them to flare out or create an open bite, where the upper and lower teeth do not meet properly when the jaws are closed. This misalignment can lead to various dental problems and aesthetic concerns.
  3. Speech Difficulties: Individuals with tongue thrust often exhibit a “frontal lisp” during speech, where the tongue is positioned against or between the teeth when producing sounds like /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/, and /j/, resulting in distorted speech patterns.
  4. Jaw Pain and Headaches: The abnormal positioning of the tongue and jaw muscles can contribute to jaw discomfort, tension headaches, and other related issues.

Treatment Options for Tongue Thrust
At the Center for Orofacial Myology, we offer a comprehensive range of treatment options to address tongue thrust effectively:

  1. Myofunctional Therapy: This specialized therapy aims to develop a normal oral resting position where the lips and teeth are closed, and the tongue rests against the ridge behind the upper front teeth. Through targeted exercises, patients learn to achieve proper tongue movement during swallowing, speech, and rest, correcting the tongue thrust habit.
  2. Speech Therapy: In many cases, speech therapy is necessary to address the abnormal tongue position and correct the frontal production of specific speech sounds resulting from tongue thrust.
  3. Parent and Patient Involvement: Successful treatment of tongue thrust relies heavily on active participation from both the patient and their parents. Our team will provide guidance and resources to help reinforce the exercises and techniques learned during therapy sessions through consistent practice at home.
  4. Multidisciplinary Approach: In some cases, a collaborative effort involving speech-language pathologists, myofunctional therapists, orthodontists, and other healthcare professionals may be necessary to address underlying issues contributing to tongue thrust, such as airway obstructions or muscle tone imbalances.

At the Center for Orofacial Myology, our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to providing personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s unique needs. We understand the potential impact tongue thrust can have on a child’s oral and overall development, and we are committed to helping families overcome this condition through comprehensive and effective treatment strategies.

If you suspect your child or yourself may be experiencing tongue thrust, we encourage you to schedule an evaluation with our team. Early intervention is key to preventing further complications and ensuring optimal oral function and development. Don’t hesitate to contact us today at (208) 793-7006 to learn more about our services and take the first step toward conquering tongue thrust.