Frequently Asked Questions about Tongue Thrusting in Children

Frequently Asked Questions about Tongue Thrusting in Children
Posted on 02/08/2023

Frequently-Asked-Questions-about-Tongue-Thrusting-in-ChildrenThe human tongue enables such crucial functions as speech and swallowing. However, this muscular structure can sometimes get in the way of a child's optimal dental development. If your child engages in the common habit known as tongue thrusting, the results can include misaligned teeth in later life.

Fortunately, you can learn how to spot tongue thrusting in your child and seek the appropriate treatment measures to discourage it once you understand some key facts about the habit. Take a moment to explore the answers to these frequently asked questions about tongue thrusting in children.

Why Does Tongue Thrusting Occur?

Tongue thrusting involves an abnormal amount of contact and/or pressure between the tongue and the upper or lower teeth. When a child with this disorder speaks or swallows, the child's tongue pushes forward and exerts even more pressure against the teeth. Even at rest, a child may subconsciously engage in tongue thrusting.

Tongue thrusting occurs for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the tongue itself suffers from a congenital abnormality. For instance, an enlarged tongue may make pressure against the teeth unavoidable. Allergies, tonsil or jaw abnormalities, and an unnaturally short band of tissue beneath the tongue can also cause tongue thrusting.

More commonly, tongue thrusting in children stems from an acquired behavior. Thumb sucking counts as a leading culprit. Other habits that influence tongue motion and encourage tongue thrusting include the overuse of sippy cups, nippled bottles, and pacifiers. 

What Symptoms May Indicate Tongue Thrusting?

The tongue itself may call your attention to a possible case of tongue thrusting. If you see your child's tongue protruding from between the upper and lower teeth, not just during eating or speech but also at rest, suspect this disorder. A protruding tongue may also keep children from closing their mouths normally.

An open bite may also indicate tongue thrusting. In this symptom, the upper or lower teeth jut outward at an angle instead of sitting vertically in their sockets. As a result, the child's upper and lower teeth never actually come together, producing a visible gap. This condition can cause a child to lisp certain syllables or have trouble eating.

When Should Parents Seek Treatment for Tongue Thrusting?

Tongue thrusting during babyhood, before the first teeth have erupted, should not signal alarm. Babies commonly engage in this practice as a necessary aid to help them expel solid foods or objects that they can't chew or swallow. However, they may develop unfortunate habits such as thumb sucking that may cause trouble later on.

Tongue thrusting becomes a concern around the age of four. Most children have put thumb sucking and other contributing factors aside by this age. If they don't, the constant application of pressure against the newly-erupted baby teeth can alter their position and alignment, leading to problems that eventually require orthodontic correction.

How Do Dentists Deal With Tongue Thrusting?

A skilled pediatric dentist can identify the telltale signs of tongue thrusting. Even so, the dentist must determine the exact causes or causes of the problem before administering treatment. Your pediatric dentist will examine your child's tongue for abnormalities, possibly holding it while the child swallows to observe its function.

Tongue thrusting caused by an underlying medical issue will require the treatment of that issue. For instance, if allergies cause or aggravate your child's tongue thrusting, you may receive a referral to a specialist in that field. Other recommendations may include surgery to correct an enlarged or otherwise abnormal tongue.

If particular habits such as thumb sucking or pacifier use have led to a tongue thrusting problem, your pediatric dentist will recommend strategies to help break those habits. A combination of rewards for not thumb sucking and gentle reminders as needed may prove sufficient to wean your child from this behavior.

Bear in mind that your child may continue to need additional care to overcome the side effects of tongue thrusting. For instance, if your child learned to form certain sounds incorrectly, the child may benefit from speech therapy to re-learn how to make those sounds. Therapy can also help to correct abnormal swallowing function.

How Can a Tongue Crib Treat Tongue Thrusting?

Pediatric dentists sometimes recommend the installation of a tongue crib to discourage a stubborn thumb-sucking habit. This painless device consists of a wire structure attached to the molars. The front of the tongue crib features a kind of metal grate that prevents the thumb from touching the roof of the mouth.

A tongue crib can prove useful for tongue thrusting even in the absence of thumb sucking. The presence of the metal grate can help train the tongue to relax and lie lower in the mouth instead of constantly pushing against the teeth. This device can even help correct an open bite, depending on how long it remains in place.

If your child shows the telltale signs of tongue thrusting, schedule an appointment at Dentistry for Children & Adolescents. Our pediatric dental team can identify the source of the problem, administer dental treatment, refer your child for other treatment if necessary, and advise you on preventative home care. 


Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Eden Prairie Office - 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, Suite 150, Eden Prairie , MN 55344 Phone: 952-932-0920

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