Can Tongue Thrust Be Corrected in Adults?

So, you’ve been diagnosed with tongue thrust by your dentist, orthodontist, or speech-language pathologist, and you’re wondering…can tongue thrust be fixed in adults? Or is it too late? 

Rest assured, if you are an adult with tongue thrust, there are evidence-based techniques to help you retrain your tongue positioning and correct your swallow.

What is tongue thrust? 

A tongue thrust is a “reverse swallow.” In a correct swallowing pattern, the tongue tip is placed on the alveolar ridge (the bumpy ridge behind your top two front teeth). You gently bite down, the tongue pushes up against the hard palate, then pushes back and down to swallow.

In a reverse swallow, the tongue pushes forward against the front teeth during the swallow. 

Correct swallowing patterns typically develop by the age of 6 or 7 years old. However, some children do not automatically develop that swallowing pattern, leaving them with a reverse swallow or tongue thrust. Often these children’s swallowing patterns are overlooked, and they grow into adulthood with their tongue pushing against their front teeth every time they swallow.

Tongue thrust can be corrected at any age. However, identifying the tongue thrust early can prevent potential health issues later.

What causes tongue thrust?

There are several possible causes of tongue thrust, including but not limited to:

  • Thumb sucking

  • Blocked airways (caused by enlarged tonsils, enlarged adenoids, deviated septum, or chronic allergies)

  • Poor muscle control

  • Tongue tie

Tongue thrust can also be caused by an open mouth posture. This means that the person’s mouth remains open, even when they aren’t speaking, chewing, or swallowing. 

Why is it important to correct a tongue thrust?

When should you worry about a tongue thrust? Tongue thrust can affect a person’s health in many ways.

Persistent pressure on the teeth from the tongue can affect the development and alignment of the teeth. When the tongue pushes against the teeth during swallowing, speech, or at rest, this can lead to:

  • Speech articulation difficulties, or problems pronouncing words clearly (a lisp is a common result of tongue thrust)

  • Malocclusions such as an overbite, underbite, open bite, or crossbite

  • Dental misalignments

When tongue thrusting persists into the teen and adult years, it can even affect jaw alignment. 

Other potential health issues related to long-term tongue thrust include:

  • Snoring 

  • Sleep apnea 

  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) 

  • Mouth breathing 

  • Malnutrition (due to inefficient chewing and breakdown of food)  

  • Social isolation and self-consciousness because of speech articulation difficulties, such as a lisp

How can a speech therapist help adults with tongue thrust?

You might wonder if you can fix a tongue thrust on your own. However, the most effective way to fix a tongue thrust is through speech therapy.

Your speech therapist will use an evidence-based treatment called myofunctional therapy. This treatment for tongue thrust targets the muscles of the face, jaw, tongue, neck, and mouth. The goals of myofunctional therapy are to improve your tongue’s oral resting posture and correct your tongue positioning in speech, chewing, and swallowing.

When you commit to an evidence-based treatment program, and regularly practice at home under the guidance of your speech therapist, you will see results! Treatment for tongue thrust can help prevent long-term health issues, no matter what age you are. Don’t hesitate to contact a speech therapist to ask questions and learn more.

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