Tongue Thrust: What Parents Should Know
The role of the tongue in speech is often overlooked, but it plays a crucial part in proper pronunciation and sound development.
During infancy, we naturally swallow with a different pattern, pushing the front tip of the tongue forward instead of keeping it behind the front teeth. This enables us to expel liquid from a nipple or bottle. As children grow and mature, they develop a more mature swallowing pattern. The tongue tip no longer extends past the front teeth; instead, it presses against the bumpy spot behind the two front teeth called the alveolar ridge. Meanwhile, the middle, sides, and back of the tongue propel liquid or food towards the throat. This mature swallowing pattern usually develops around the age of four.
Tongue Thrust is an Immature Swallow
Tongue thrust, also known as a reverse or immature swallow, or orofacial muscular imbalance, is often noticed by parents or teachers when they observe their child or student protruding their tongue while producing certain sounds like /s, z, t, d, sh, ch, j/ or lisping. Some may also notice that the child or student breathes through an open mouth while at rest, indicating mouth breathing.
Some Habits to Watch that May Lead to Tongue Thrust
Parents frequently ask about the origins of these habits. While various factors could contribute to the failure to develop a mature swallowing pattern, the most common causes include:
– Prolonged use of pacifiers or thumb sucking
– Prolonged use of sippy cups
– Having a high-arched or narrow palate
– Enlarged tonsils
– Genetic factors
When to Start Treatment for Tongue Thrust
As with any speech-related diagnosis, it is crucial to start therapy as early as possible to replace improper habits that are still developing. If left unaddressed, tongue thrust can lead to severe overbites, necessitating extensive orthodontic work, and long-term speech difficulties. Orthodontists strongly recommend remediating tongue thrust before performing any orthodontic procedures, as the effects of tongue thrust can often undo the benefits of orthodontics.
While correcting tongue thrust typically requires intensive therapy to change the child’s habits, the good news is that tongue thrust therapy has a high success rate with dedicated and motivated clients and families. Therapy mainly focuses on practicing proper tongue placement during eating, drinking, producing speech sounds, and at rest. The client will work closely with a speech therapist on specific activities and practice them daily at home.
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