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tongue thrusting and its impact on oral development

Tongue Thrusting and Its Impact on Oral Development

Have you ever noticed your child pushing their tongue against their teeth while swallowing or speaking? This seemingly harmless habit, known as tongue thrusting, can have significant implications for their oral development. This blog delves into the world of tongue thrusting, exploring its causes, potential consequences, and available treatment options. Also, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge you need to understand and address this common concern.

What is Tongue Thrusting?

During the early stages of development, infants naturally exhibit an “infantile swallow pattern.” It’s where the tongue rests between the gum pads and pushes forward during swallowing. This pattern usually transitions to a mature swallow pattern by the age of 4-5 years, where the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth behind the upper teeth and doesn’t thrust forward during swallowing. However, in some cases, children may continue with the infantile swallow pattern, resulting in tongue thrusting. This persistent habit can exert undue pressure on the teeth and jaw, potentially leading to various oral health concerns.


Tongue thrusting, the repetitive pushing of the tongue against the teeth, can stem from a variety of factors impacting both oral development and broader health. Here’s a deeper dive into the potential causes:

1. Early Habits Leaving a Mark

Thumb sucking, pacifier use beyond a certain age (typically around 4-5 years old). Besides, bottle feeding past infancy can influence tongue placement and swallowing patterns. It potentially leads to tongue-thrusting. These habits can create a space between the teeth, inviting the tongue to push forward.

2. Muscle Matters

Weak tongue and facial muscles struggle to position and efficiently swallow correctly. This weakness can lead to tongue thrust as a compensatory mechanism.

3. Neurological Considerations

Certain neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, can affect muscle control and coordination. As a result, it impacts tongue movement and potentially leads to tongue thrust.

4. Beyond the Mouth

Stress, anxiety, and even breathing difficulties (like allergies or nasal congestion) can contribute to tongue thrusting in some individuals. These factors can unconsciously influence how we use our tongue, leading to a thrusting habit.

Consequences of Tongue Thrusting

1. Dental Misalignment

The constant pressure exerted by the tongue against the teeth can disrupt their natural growth and alignment. This can lead to:

  • Open bite: A gap between the upper and lower front teeth, making it difficult to bite into food and affecting aesthetics.
  • Overjet: The upper front teeth protrude significantly over the lower front teeth.
  • Crowded teeth: When there’s insufficient space for all the teeth to erupt properly, leading to overlapping and misalignment.

2. Speech Impediments

Proper tongue placement plays a crucial role in forming specific sounds during speech. When tongue thrusting becomes habitual, it disrupts this placement, leading to:

  • Lisp: Difficulty pronouncing sounds like “s” and “z,” often resulting in a whistling sound.
  • Other articulation problems: Difficulty producing specific sounds due to improper tongue positioning, making speech unclear and challenging to understand.

3. Gum Problems

The abnormal pressure and friction caused can irritate the gums, increasing the risk of:

  • Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums, characterized by redness, swelling, and bleeding.
  • Periodontitis: A more severe gum disease that damages the supporting bone and tissues around the teeth, potentially leading to tooth loss.

4. Facial Development

In severe and prolonged cases, tongue thrusting can exert pressure on the jaw, potentially affecting facial growth and development. This can lead to:

  • Elongated lower face: The lower jaw may protrude outwards, altering the facial profile.
  • Recessed chin: The chin may appear underdeveloped due to improper jaw growth.

Early Detection of Tongue Thrusting

Identifying this habit early is crucial for minimizing its potential negative effects. Here’s what you need to be aware of:

  • Visible Tongue Placement: This is the most telling sign. Look for the tongue protruding between the teeth when your child swallows or speaks. Even if it happens sporadically, it’s worth addressing.
  • Speech Difficulties: Tongue thrust can affect speech articulation, often leading to lisping, where the “s” and “z” sounds are mispronounced.
  • Dental Issues: An open bite, where the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet when biting together, or crowded teeth can be indicators of tongue thrusting. These issues can require orthodontic intervention.
  • Oral Habits: Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use beyond infancy can contribute to the development of tongue thrusting.

The Importance of Early Detection

  • Minimizing dental problems: Early intervention helps train correct tongue placement. Also, it can prevent the need for future orthodontic treatment to correct open bites or crowded teeth.
  • Improving speech development: Addressing tongue thrusting early can help children develop proper speech patterns. Besides, it helps avoid difficulties with articulation that might otherwise persist into adulthood.
  • Boosting confidence: Speech difficulties and dental issues can affect a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Addressing tongue thrusting early can alleviate these concerns and help children feel more comfortable about their smiles and communication skills.

Tongue thrusting, though a common habit, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Understanding its causes, consequences, and treatment options empowers you to address the issue proactively. If you suspect your child exhibits signs of tongue thrusting, consult your dentist or orthodontist for a proper diagnosis and discuss the most appropriate treatment plan. Remember, early intervention ensures healthy oral development and a confident smile for your child.