The term tongue thrust refers to your tongue moving toward the front or side of your mouth, generally when you swallow. Because you swallow hundreds of time each day, having tongue thrust can affect the placement of your teeth and your smile.

What Causes a Tongue Thrust?

There is not one particular thing that causes tongue thrust, and most people don’t even realize it is happening. Some potential reasons include:

  • Excessive thumb-sucking
  • The shape of your jaws or other genetic trait
  • Being tongue-tied (the tissue that connects your tongue to your mouth is too short)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • An overly large tongue

Signs of tongue thrusting include mouth breathing and speech issues, such as lisping or difficulty in pronouncing certain letters.

How It Affects Your Teeth

Although it may not seem like it, swallowing takes quite a bit of muscular strength. And when your tongue is being thrusted during swallowing, it applies a large amount of pressure against your teeth. For children, tongue thrusting to the side can cause enough pressure that their adult molars do not come in properly because the tongue is constantly in the way, or they may end up being crooked. More commonly, the tongue pushes to the front of the mouth when swallowing and causes the front teeth to be pushed forward, creating an open bite, underbite, or overbite, depending on where the tongue hits the teeth.

While these issues can be corrected with orthodontic treatment, if the tongue thrust isn’t eliminated, over time it will most likely push the teeth out of alignment again. It can also drastically slow the progress of your orthodontic treatment because as the braces are moving your teeth into place, your tongue is pushing them out of place every time you swallow.

How to Treat a Tongue Thrust

The first step to treating tongue thrust is determining that you or your child do it. When your dentist or orthodontist asks you to swallow during your exam, this is one of the things they are checking. Watching what your tongue does when you swallow will tell them if it moves too much to the side or front of your mouth.

If you have tongue thrust, there are a couple ways to eliminate it. An appliance may be used before braces are put on to discourage your tongue from moving too much to the front or sides of your mouth. These appliances often include a metal cage to block your tongue before it hits your teeth moves them out of alignment. If your tongue thrust is discovered when you get braces, a similar piece may be added to your braces to retrain your tongue while your smile is being improved.

Another way to correct a tongue thrust is by doing exercises that teach your tongue muscles how to move properly so your tongue stays in the middle of your mouth during swallowing. Because the movements that occur when you swallow aren’t voluntary, retraining your tongue through exercise can be a long process, but it can be done.

To learn more about tongue thrusting and how to treat it, call Charleston Orthodontic Specialists at (843) 4-BRACES.