Tongue thrusting (which is also sometimes called reverse swallowing or immature swallow) is an orofacial muscular imbalance in which the tongue protrudes through the anterior incisors during speech, swallowing, and even when the tongue is at rest. It can cause serious orthodontic problems if unaddressed.
Tongue thrusting is normal among infants, until about the age of 6 months. At this point, most babies grow out of it, and this is often a sign that they’re ready to start eating baby food.
However, if tongue thrust continues past the age of 4, it can cause serious orthodontic problems. This is one of the many reasons that even young children can benefit from orthodontic evaluation at an early age.
Tongue thrusting can have serious adverse effects on the teeth and mouth. On average, a person swallows 1,200 - 2,000 times a day, with each swallow placing about 4 pounds of pressure each time. This continuous pressure can force the teeth out of alignment.
Many people who tongue thrust suffer from open bites and other orthodontic problems. And in fact, if tongue thrusting is an unaddressed issue, it can sometimes even cause dental and orthodontic issues to relapse after treatment.
Tongue Thrust Treatment
Tongue thrust can be treated in two different ways. A nightguard or a more permanent dental appliance that can only be removed or adjusted by an orthodontist or dentist can be placed.
This creates a physical barrier that can make tongue thrusting more difficult or uncomfortable for the patient, and thereby eventually reverses the habit.
Or, the patient can undergo orofacial myofunctional therapy designed to re-train the muscles associated with swallowing by way of changing the swallowing pattern.