What Is Tongue Thrust and How to Treat It

Our Dental Blog | Child Dentistry, Info & tips | 07.30.2022

If you’ve noticed that your baby has a habit of sticking out their tongue at you, don’t take it personally. Even though a protruding tongue is usually a sign of mockery or contempt, we promise you that your little bundle of joy isn’t trying to be disrespectful—your baby’s tongue simply has a mind of its own.

Tongue thrust—or what we pediatric dentists sometimes call reverse swallow or immature swallow—is a perfectly normal condition that your baby will, in all likelihood, grow out of. Nevertheless, it’s best to learn more about tongue thrust before your baby inadvertently sticks out their wriggly tongue at the wrong grandparent.


What is Tongue Thrust?

For parents who want their babies to have brilliant—and not unintentionally mocking—smiles, there are two different kinds of tongue thrust to understand.

The first is tongue thrust reflex, or extrusion reflex. This refers to your baby’s tongue moving forward in their mouth, usually during breast or bottle feeding. This involuntary reflex keeps babies from choking and helps them push food—or breast milk, as the case may be—down the right hatch. This extrusion reflex usually lasts between 5 and 6 months of age and shouldn’t be the cause of any alarm for parents—beyond giving the illusion that their baby is contemptuously mocking them.


Tongue thrust only becomes an issue when it persists past the stage that your infant should have outgrown it. At that point, it becomes an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD) which isn’t nearly as scary or incurable as its name suggests. Generally speaking, OMDs refer to incorrect resting postures of various facial and oral muscles. Specifically, tongue thrust occurs when the tongue rests in a forward position in the mouth, pressing up against or protruding past the teeth and lips.


Side Effects of Tongue Thrust

Because tongue thrust is normal in—and even beneficial to—young infants, it can be difficult for parents to figure out if and when their baby has tongue troubles. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs that parents can look out for.

  • The tongue is clearly protruding from your baby’s mouth
  • Your toddler or child is having difficulty with speech and annunciation
  • Your toddler or child is still sucking their thumb past the age of 4
  • Your toddler or child has an open bite
  • Your child or toddler has difficult biting, chewing and swallowing solid foods
  • Your baby or child breathes through their mouth
  • Your baby or child cannot close their mouth or has an open-mouthed resting posture


Causes of Tongue Thrust

Beyond sassiness, there isn’t any single cause of tongue thrust and every child will develop in their own unique way. With that said, however, there are some common culprits that parents can keep an eye out for.

  • Different types of bottles, pacifiers and teething rings can affect how your baby’s mouth, teeth and, yes, tongue develop. Monitor how well your infant or baby takes to certain bottle nipples and pacifiers and adjust accordingly.
  • Thumb-sucking is a good indicator of tongue thrust because it can, often times, be the cause of tongue thrust. Similarly, prolonged use of pacifiers or other oral fixations can cause the misalignment of teeth and a myriad of other knock-on conditions.
  • Tongue-tie a condition where the tissue that tethers or “anchors” the tongue in the mouth is too short. This condition can limit the range of motion drastically and force the tongue into a forward resting position.


How to Treat Tongue Thrust

The good news for parents is that their baby’s “flippant” tongue doesn’t have to ruin their adorable smile. Depending on how advanced your child’s case of tongue thrust is, your pediatric dentist can refer your child to a speech pathologist or therapist or an orthodontic specialist. Work with a speech pathologist usually takes about 6 months to complete if your child keeps up with their exercises.

At Treehouse Dental, we firmly believe that tongues are for wagging, not sticking out. From infant exams to x-rays and sealants, we’re proud to offer the best pediatric dentistry services in the Greater Toronto Area. So don’t bite your tongue or get it all twisted, book your next appointment with us today or schedule a virtual consultation.


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