If your child has tongue thrust, the most obvious sign from your perspective will be that they’re having a problem pronouncing S and Z sounds.
Sometimes a family doctor will refer a patient because they’ve noticed a child breathing primarily through their mouth.
The good news is that tongue thrust is a very treatable condition.
Here at District Speech, we provide speech therapy treatments for tongue thrust in children.
If you’re concerned your child may have developed tongue thrust, have a read below for more information.
What Is Tongue Thrust?
Tongue thrust, also known as orofacial myofunctional disorder, is a developmental issue, and is quite common in children.
In fact, according to research compiled by ASHA, tongue thrust can affect up to half of US children.
It occurs when the tongue presses further forward in the mouth than normal.
In orthodontics, they call this condition an “open bite”.
What causes it?
Well, it often originates in infancy; when your child had no teeth, they needed to press their tongue against their lips so they could create enough of a seal to swallow.
Once teething begins, infants usually begin to grow out of it.
Most children are past this natural tongue thrust by the age of four.
Symptoms Of Tongue Thrust
A surprising sign common in children is being a messy eater.
Alternately, eating particularly fast or slow are other signs of difficulty eating, due to tongue thrust.
When tongue thrust and poor tongue posture makes it difficult for kids to breathe through their nose, there is a new tell-tale sign: a child who breathes through their mouth.
This, in turn, causes abnormalities in the growth of the jaw, which can lead to structural issues, such as a child not being able to close their lips properly.
It may cause them to have a bite that doesn’t close fully – meaning their upper and lower teeth don’t meet.
Children with tongue thrust often sleep with their mouths open, because they are so accustomed to it being open all day.
You can also sometimes see their tongue visible between their teeth.
Then, of course, there are sometimes speech issues – it’s very common for children with tongue thrust to have difficulty pronouncing Z and S sounds, for example.
As we mentioned above, very young infants need to use tongue thrust in order to swallow at all, including during feeding.
As the child gets older, muscles develop, and as they move to more solid food, they tend to engage in tongue thrusting less and less until it disappears completely.
The problem may lie in the use of pacifiers, or the nipples on bottles; some argue that prolonged use of either can result in lingering issues.
Thumb-sucking is another potential culprit.
Tongue-tie, which sounds like a fictional condition, is actually the name for when the band of tissue beneath the tongue is abnormally taut.
Sometimes allergies can cause adenoids or chronically-swollen tonsils, which can in turn lead to tongue thrust.
Adults who suffer from tongue thrust have usually brought it with them from childhood.
Similar to kids, adults can develop tongue thrust due to allergies or swelling in their adenoids or tonsils.
However, in adults, we have to also consider their lifestyle and stress levels, as this can be a factor.
The symptoms are similar in adults as in children, though they may not be as apparent.
A noticeable feature in adults is an elongated facial structure; this is the result of a lifetime of being unable to properly close their mouth.
Adults with tongue thrust can also have an abnormally large tongue.
Often in adults, because their front teeth don’t match up properly, biting into certain foods can be painful, or they might notice they can’t even bite certain foods properly at all.
Complications From Tongue Thrust
Although tongue thrust might sound harmless, it actually can result in some severe complications.
Basically, chronic tongue thrust can alter the form and mechanics of your jaw.
It can also cause malformed teeth, due to the pressure of the tongue on the back of the teeth.
There is also the complication of speech development.
How Do We Diagnose Tongue Thrust?
Many healthcare professionals have cause to diagnose tongue thrust, including your family doctor or pediatrician, dentists, orthodontists, and – of course – speech language pathologists such as ourselves.
We generally will start by observing the way your child speaks and swallows, while checking in on some of the symptoms you’ve noticed.
We also check on their allergies, whether or not they may have tongue-tie, and whether your child might ‘reverse swallow’.
On occasion, we have to engage others in the diagnosis, including a gastroenterologist or ENT specialist, depending on the symptoms we’re seeing.
How Does A Speech Therapist Treat Tongue Thrust?
Speech therapists will often use a treatment called orofacial myology.
This is an ongoing treatment that helps correct the placement of your child’s tongue, lips, and jaw.
Orofacial myology can also address abnormal swallowing habits your child might have.
Next, we would likely address any speech impediments that may have developed.
Keep in mind that any underlying conditions that are contributing to the tongue thrust will also be part of the treatment your child will receive.
Book An Appointment With District Speech
The prognosis for tongue thrusting is quite good, as long as the patient is diligent with their treatment plan.
As experts in this condition, we will make sure your child has the right treatment plan and team around them.
Call now to book your appointment with District Speech, and we’ll put you on the path right away.
If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our speech and language therapists, feel free to contact us.
Until next time,
District Speech and Language Therapy
1331 H St NW, #200,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech & Language Therapy specializes in speech and language solutions from children to adults in the Washington D.C and Northern Virginia area.