Sometimes they ask me about tongue thrust: what is it, how does it affect speech, and what to do about it.
All babies have their tongues pushed or swallowed in the reverse direction. When the baby swallows, his tongue pushes toward the gums or front teeth, if he has them. Consider feeding pureed foods to a baby. The baby’s tongue pushes forward, pushing some of the food out of his mouth. The adult scoops the food off his lips and face, puts it back in his mouth, and the cycle continues. As babies mature, they learn not only to keep their lips closed when swallowing, but to effectively move food down the throat with more mature swallowing.
In mature swallowing, the tip of the tongue is held on the alveolar ridge (gingiva) behind the upper front teeth and the tongue efficiently moves food back in a twisting motion. Children should have a normal adult swallow when they are seven years old.
Sometimes, however, a child continues to push the tongue or swallow in the reverse direction. When this happens, your teeth are usually slightly apart, the tongue presses forward against or between the front teeth, and the lips are tightly closed to prevent the tongue from sticking out. Many children whose tongue is pushed breathe through their mouths, often due to allergies or enlarged tonsils / adenoids, causing the tongue to sit between or against the front teeth at rest. Then when they swallow, the tongue pushes forward against the teeth.
How can I tell if my child’s tongue is being pushed?
–The most obvious answer is to have a speech pathologist evaluate you. But you may be able to diagnose this yourself.
-Is it a respirator through the mouth? Do you keep your tongue between your front teeth when at rest? These are signs that you probably have a tongue thrust.
-Tell him to take a sip of water and watch him swallow. Try to part your lips while swallowing. There should be no forward movement of the tongue. Children with a tongue thrust generally cannot swallow with their lips parted.
What are the results of a push with the tongue?
-The tongue is a very strong muscle. If you press against your front teeth for thousands of drinks a day, your teeth will most likely stick out. If this happens, the tongue thrust must be corrected before orthodontic work is done or the teeth will quickly move out of place again.
-The strong habit of protruding tongue often affects speech patterns. The most typical speech errors seen with a tongue thrust are a substitution of “th” for “s” or “z”. In more severe cases, all the sounds of the tip of the tongue (t, d, n, ch, sh, j) can be affected. It can be difficult to correct these speech errors when there is an uncorrected tongue thrust.
What should be done?
-If your child is under seven years old, give more time to the subject. If your child is seven years old or older, find a speech pathologist with experience in tongue thrust therapy. Be prepared to supervise your child with language exercises one or more times a day. It will take a lot of practice to change this ingrained habit.
-If your child breathes through his mouth, try to find the cause. If you cannot breathe comfortably through your nose due to allergies or enlarged tonsils and adenoids, this problem should be corrected first.
-Encourage your child to keep the lips and back teeth together and the tongue to rest on the upper edge of the gum. Having her hold a Tic-Tac or orthodontic rubber band in place with her tongue for 10 to 20 minutes a day can encourage this habit.
As with all speech and language problems, I encourage you to be alert to your child’s development, to seek professional advice, and to act when necessary.