Tongue Thrusting: Signs, Risks & Treatment

It is not uncommon to see children or adults whose tip of their tongues stick out between their teeth or the front set of the upper and lower teeth do not meet when their mouths are closed.

This is a habit that can be developed from childhood or due to poor eating habits. This is known as tongue thrusting. Tongue thrusting is a habit whereby the tongue is placed in a wrong position when it is inactive or swallowing teeth

When the tongue is used in swallowing, it is pushed down against the lower teeth, it can be pushed to be between the teeth. With time, this habit will make the teeth especially the front ones to be misaligned and can cause speech problems or facial misalignment or a condition called “open bite”.


Babies in their infant stages are fed with feeding bottles or are breastfed. It is normal for them to stick out their tongues to suck these things. Doing this overtime and coupled with some types of feeding bottles and pacifiers can lead to this abnormal and progress past infancy to adulthood. 

Apart from the above cause, there are other factors that can develop into tongue thrusting. Some are:

Reverse swallowing

There is normal swallowing pattern and abnormal or reverse swallowing. In normal swallowing, your lips are closed against each other, your tongue touches the upper palate, your teeth are tightly closed and the lowered jaw moves up when you swallow before it returns to it’s position.

 But in the case of reverse swallowing, the lips are open including the teeth, the tongue is pressed down and mandibles move downwards even when you swallow. This pattern of swallowing is one of the major cause of tongue thrusting.

Swollen Adenoids

When the adenoids are enlarged and swollen than normal, they block the airways. When the airways are blocked, there is nasal obstruction and breathing becomes difficult. The only alternative is for the person to breathe through the mouth and this makes the mouth to be continuously open resulting to tongue thrusting.

Tongue tie or ankyloglossia

Tongue tie is a birth defects, it can occur when a child is born. Tongue tie is when a thick mass of tissue holds the tongue and restrict it from movements and motions. The tongue is unable to lift high to the roof of the mouth. These tissues are found under the tongue. This can affect speech production and facial alignment, it is also another cause why tongues thrust.

Habits like sucking of fingers or clothes

This is a common habit for babies and infants, they suck their thumb and clothes around them. Chewing or biting of fingers can cause tongue thrusting.


Tongue Thrusting

In many adults, tongue thrusting develops in their childhood and continues till they are adults. While in fewer cases, it develops when they are adults. Common causes in adults are:

  • Stress
  • Nasal obstruction; or
  • Swollen adenoids which can develop in any stage or age.


For people who are observant, there are signs that will show that a child has tongue thrusting. In infants, there are symptoms that can show that too.

Poor eating habits: Because of the abnormal swallowing pattern, the patient tends to have a slow, messy and bad habit when eating. Food tends to come out of the mouth when chewing or swallowing because the lips and teeth are opened.

Open mouth: Because they breathe with their mouth and the tongue is continually between the upper and lower teeth, the mouth is not closed.

Breathing difficulties: For those whose adenoids are enlarged and swollen leading to blockage of the airways, they will always doing it difficult to breath and the mouth instead of the nose is used to breathe.
For speech production, the teeth, tongue, lips and throat are used. If any of the part of the body used in speech production is abnormal, it affects how sounds are made. For those with tongue thrusting condition, letters “s” and “z” are lisped.

Open bite: This happens when the front teeth do not meet with each other when the mouth is closed.
If you are not able to diagnose this condition yourself, there is no problem as there are medical practitioners like dentists, pediatricians, orthodontists or any other health personnels. The way the patient swallows food and how they speak are used to diagnose if they have this condition.


If this condition is not diagnosed and treated , with time, there may be effects or risks like the teeth to become misaligned. The tongue sticking out of the mouth can give another look to the face.
If this habit or condition stays for a long time, it can have long-term effect on speech production. It can also cause difficulties in eating or chewing with some teeth.


If the tongue thrusting is caused by enlarged adenoids which blocks the airways, medications that will reduce the sweeping can be given. In extreme cases, these adenoids are removed and the patient can start breathing well with the nose.

Orthodontic treatment can be given to correct this condition. An orthodontic device known as a “tongue crib” is placed in the roof of a child’s mouth to correct an open bite. In some cases, adults receive orthodontic treatment as well.

Orofacial myology or treatment can be used by your doctor to correct how the teeth, tongue and jaws are placed. This can also help to correct abnormal swallowing pattern.
Speech therapy is also encouraged to correct how sounds are produced. With constant treatments and time, tongue thrusting can be corrected.


Tongue thrusting is only a condition caused by habits or other health conditions. The good news is that it can be corrected. If you are highly committed to these treatment methods and therapies, you will notice progress. For a child, you need to put in efforts to correct it in the childhood stage as it will be easier than when he or she becomes an adult.

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