With proper swallowing, the tip of the tongue pushes against the gum above the back of the upper front teeth. If you have a tongue thrust, that means your tongue pushes forward between your upper and lower teeth every time you swallow. This is a bad habit that can cause orthodontic problems like open bite. If your child has a tongue thrust, it needs be addressed and corrected. Otherwise any orthodontic treatment can relapse, and no one wants to do braces twice!
How to Stop a Tongue Thrust at Home
There are a few tongue thrust exercises your child can try at home. Here is one that we recommend:
- Place a sugar-free lifesaver on the tip of your tongue.
- Press the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, so that it’s pushing against the gum just behind your upper front teeth.
- Bite your teeth together in your regular bite, keeping your lips apart.
- Swallow. Remember to keep your teeth together and your lips apart while swallowing. Check in the mirror to make sure you don’t see the tongue “squish” through between the teeth. This means you’re keeping your tongue back where it should be.
Do two sets of 30 swallows each day, in the morning and in the evening. It may be pretty challenging at first, but keep at it! It gets easier over time.
What If the At-Home Exercises Don’t Work?
If you need extra help with retraining the tongue, Dr. Dougherty can fabricate a tongue thrust appliance. Please note that tongue thrust appliances must be fitted by an orthodontist or pediatric dentist to fit your individual needs and anatomy. Additionally, Dr. Dougherty may refer you to a speech therapist or orofacial myologist who specializes in myofunctional therapy.
Additional Words of Advice from Dr. D
The course for speech therapy is usually 9 weeks long. However, it takes 6 months to ensure full cessation of the habit. It’s something the child just has to remember—which is hard. So treating it at a mature age (an age where the child can take on this extra responsibility) is key. Treating under the age of 10 is difficult unless the child is really mature for his or her age. It also becomes harder to break the habit the older the child gets, due to more years of swallowing incorrectly. Catching it at a young age helps.