A tongue thrust occurs when the muscles for swallowing have learned to work together the wrong way. The tongue can be very strong. When it constantly rests against the teeth and pushes forward or outward during a swallow, it can cause the teeth to move.
Braces work by applying a light, constant pressure to the teeth and moving them slowly over a period of time. The pressure on each tooth causes the tissues surrounding the tooth to stretch and become temporarily mobile. Eventually, the bone fills in around each of the teeth, solidifying them into their new position.
The muscles of our mouth and face are nature’s living orthodontic equalizers. They can have a great influence on the movement and position of our teeth. Teeth are ever-changing, so they can be altered and moved by muscular influence from the jaws, lips, tongue and cheeks.
Ideally, the balance of forces exists between the lips and the cheeks on the outside of the teeth, and the tongue on the inside of the teeth.
Any imbalances affect the growth, comfort, and position of the teeth and jaw. The most significant type of muscular imbalance to affect the oral and facial structures is called a “tongue thrust.”
There are many characteristics to look for to determine if someone has a tongue thrust. Three of the most common signs to recognize are:
Mouth breathing: The most common sign. The mouth is open at rest and the tongue is often forward or sticking out.
Speech concerns: Lisping can be a sign of a tongue thrust. If there is difficulty pronouncing “T, D, N, and L” sounds, this is another indicator. General problems with articulation, rate of speech and voice quality and clarity may also be present.
Sucking habits (past or present) can cause a tongue thrust to develop. The formation of the mouth and position of the tongue are changed by the thumb or finger during the sucking habit. Even if the child quits the habit, the damage caused to the function of the tongue, facial musculature, and other structures often still remain.
If you have braces, a tongue thrust can be a problem because:
It can slow down your orthodontic treatment, keeping your braces on for a longer time.
It can make your teeth move again, after taking your braces off.
It can make moving your teeth and closing spaces much more difficult for your orthodontist.
When the muscles of your mouth and face are not in balance, solving orthodontic problems are much more challenging.
Orthodontists have struggled over the years, fighting the strength of the tongue while trying to provide the best orthodontist treatment. Many appliances have been invented to “tame” the tongue, and an appliance is one option to help you with a tongue thrust. Appliances may be worn for a long period of time before braces are put on. It is important to know your options when it comes to correcting a tongue thrust. Sometimes an appliance can work in combination with other methods of treatment. Myofunctional therapy works to retrain your muscles without any appliances, your orthodontist and nonfunctional therapist can help guide you through your options.