Burke, Fairfax and Fairfax Station, VA

Do us a favor: Stop what you’re doing and swallow, and pay attention to where your tongue rests when you do it. Does it rest on the roof of your mouth? Or does it protrude a bit to touch your upper teeth or even stick out between your upper and lower teeth a bit?

Swallowing patterns are easy to take for granted because they’re established when we’re young — usually by the time we’re eight years old — and most people end up with a normal swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth. If it rests anywhere else, it’s considered tongue thrust.

Tongue thrust is a highly treatable condition that is common in babies and can be found in children who perhaps sucked a pacifier, bottle or thumb for too long. But tongue thrust that goes undiagnosed in childhood leads to an adult with tongue thrust. More rarely, adults can develop tongue thrust later in life. Today our family dentist in Burke who specializes in tongue thrust, Dr. Pam Marzban, is talking about the causes of tongue thrust and how it can be treated in babies, children and adults.

How does tongue thrust happen?

Tongue thrust is common in newborns, both bottle-fed and breastfed, but usually as an infant grows into a toddler and then a child, the swallowing and speaking patterns evolve, too.

If they don’t, it’s usually due to one of the following reasons:

  • Prolonged sucking habits of fingers, bottles and/or pacifiers
  • Severe allergies that cause the swelling of tonsils and adenoids
  • Tongue tie, which is when the band of skin attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too short or too tight

Symptoms of tongue thrust include:

  • Tongue visibility — The tip of a child’s tongue may protrude between the teeth, whether the child is resting, eating or speaking.
  • An open bite — This is when the front upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the mouth is closed.
  • Mouth breathing — Not only is this a symptom of tongue thrust, but it can also lead to dry mouth, which increases the risk of cavity development.
  • Speech impediment — A child with tongue thrust often pronounces the z and s sounds with a lisp.
  • Slow, fast or messy eating habits

Can adults have tongue thrust?

Very rarely, tongue thrust will develop later in life because of chronic stress or allergies that cause the tonsils and adenoids to swell. But for the most part, adults who have tongue thrust have carried it from childhood. Give or take a symptom, adults have similar tongue-thrust symptoms as children.

Other symptoms more specific to adults include:

  • An elongated facial appearance
  • A tongue that is larger than normal
  • Trouble chewing with the front teeth because of a gap between the upper and lower teeth with the mouth closed

How is tongue thrust treated in adults?

Treating tongue thrust in either children or adults usually includes a combination of speech and language therapy or myofunctional therapy, all of which help retrain the oral muscles and tongue to swallow properly.

What is myofunctional therapy?

Having lived an entire life with tongue thrust means therapy will take time and patience. Myofunctional therapy is a customized form of physical therapy that retrains and strengthens the muscles in the face, neck and mouth, including the tongue, to function in a healthy way. This helps the muscles do their job properly and will influence healthy development of the teeth, jaws and airway. It can also help address common dental issues like temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, obstructive sleep apnea and orthodontic relapse.

How does myofunctional therapy work?

Dr. Marzban will begin with a comprehensive evaluation, during which she will look for unhealthy jaw or tongue positions, tongue thrusting and poor swallowing technique or function. After that, our team will design a personalized exercise routine to resolve any of the noted issues. Most of our patients have reported a significant improvement within 6-12 months. If a patient has a tongue tie, Dr. Marzban may suggest releasing it. This will make the myofunctional-therapy exercises easier to accomplish.

Tongue thrust treatment in Burke, Fairfax, and Fairfax Station, Virginia

Dr. Marzban works with a certified Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist (OMT) to provide myofunctional therapy to our dental patients in the Northern Virginia area near Burke, Fairfax and Fairfax Station. If you have been struggling with tongue thrust or tongue tie since you were a child, give our office a call at 703-323-8200, or reach us online today.

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