On first hearing about tongue thrust, many patients are amazed that the position of their tongue can cause teeth to become crooked. But it’s true – tongue thrust can present a unique obstacle for those with braces due to its ability to exert pressure over time that can cause alignment issues.
What is tongue thrust? Can braces fix it? Here is a patient’s guide to this strange but all too common habit.
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What is Tongue Thrust?
Tongue thrust is a form of swallowing that can be learned through bad habits or as a result of physical abnormalities. When your tongue is in the wrong place as you swallow – either to the side or pushed against the teeth – the teeth can bear the brunt of the force of swallowing.
For example, young children sometimes develop a habit called “reverse swallowing,” which is a form of tongue thrusting. This is where they push their tongue into their two front teeth when they swallow. Another type of tongue thrust is caused by breathing with the mouth constantly open. This causes the tongue to rest low, between the two rows of teeth instead of pressing against the palate.
What Happens When You Tongue Thrust?
So far, the description of tongue-thrusting may not sound like it can cause real damage. However, kids who develop and keep this habit can cause dramatic changes to the development of their facial structures.
Consider that a single swallow exerts about 4 psi on your mouth (that’s “pounds per square inch,” which is a unit of pressure). Then consider that a normal person swallows as many as 2,000 times every day. If the tongue position causes this pressure to be applied to your teeth, over time, this can cause issues.
Malocclusions or teeth misalignment can result from tongue thrust, which may cause the teeth to stick out away from the direction of the tongue pressure. Teeth spacing can become an issue as well. Even jaw structure can change due to how changes in the palate can narrow the jaw, resulting in jaw pain or even a physically narrower face.
What Causes Tongue Thrust?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes tongue thrust to develop into a harmful habit. Many children have tongue thrust at a young age but learn to swallow properly in their first few years. Some of the theories as to why some children keep the habit include:
- Excessive sucking, either on thumbs or artificial nipples, over time can cause tongue thrust
- Mouth breathing initially caused by allergies or congestion can turn into an unconscious habit
- Neurological conditions can result in improper tongue positions
- Physical abnormalities, such as a large tongue, harsh jawline, or short lingual frenum
- Large tonsils or adenoids, which can cause swallowing issues
Tongue Thrust and Braces: What You Need to Know
Tongue thrust has a two-pronged relationship with braces: it can make you need braces, and it can also slow down your braces treatment.
Braces work by using constant pressure to slowly move your teeth into alignment. However, 2,000 incorrect swallows per day act as an opposing force that causes teeth to move in the other direction. This could be the reason that a patient’s teeth are crooked or spaced improperly to begin with. Even with braces on, this opposing force can slow or reverse your treatment progress.
If the issue is not addressed, braces will not make it go away. Even after completing your full braces treatment, your teeth can become misaligned again due to tongue thrust. To prevent this from happening, you may need to ask your orthodontist about other options.
What is Oral Myofunctional Therapy?
Oral myofunctional therapy is a way for patients with a tongue thrust issue, including children, to learn to develop better habits. OMT involves an awareness and training regimen dedicated to retraining the muscles in a patient’s face and mouth, which have been programmed over time to function incorrectly.
Without muscular re-education, the tongue thrust problem will remain, causing more damage the longer it is left untreated. This is why it is important to speak to your orthodontist if you suspect that you or your child has a tongue thrust problem.
Choose Reese Orthodontics
If you’re an adult who is considering braces, you need professional advice on your treatment and payment options. For orthodontic treatments in Charleston, SC, Reese Orthodontics offers the latest technology and treatment plans. Our advanced and comfortable orthodontic treatments can be customized to suit your needs. A consultation with Reese Orthodontics includes scans, a comprehensive exam, and a conversation with the orthodontist to discover which treatment options are right for you.
Schedule an appointment with us today to stay ahead of your oral health and receive the best possible treatment in your area.Schedule Appointment