A tongue thrust, also commonly referred to as a reverse or immature swallow, occurs when the tongue protrudes out of the mouth or forcefully against the back of the front teeth when swallowing or talking. Additionally, the body of the tongue may sit too far forward in the mouth and stick out between the teeth when at rest, and tongue thrusting can also be commonly observed when a child is talking or swallowing. During infancy, a tongue thrust is considered normal, however when children begin to transition to first foods they have typically outgrown this pattern. Some children do continue to present with a tongue thrust until age six without any impact on speech production, though if a child continues to present with the tongue pattern after this point, it can reek havoc on speech skills and dentition later on as the alignment of teeth can be significantly affected.
How does a tongue thrust affect speech?
If the pattern of the tongue thrust is not corrected, speech production and intelligibility may be negatively impacted. Children with a tongue thrust often present with errors on certain sounds, such as: /s, z/ and productions are often substituted with a “th”, due to the placement of the tongue when speaking. Other sounds involving the tip of the tongue may be impacted as well, such as “sh” or “ch”. Therefore, children often present with a “lisp” because of the placement errors and consequent production of certain speech sounds. In addition, if the tongue applies excess amount of pressure onto the teeth daily, this can have a profound effect on the placement and growth of teeth. Children with a tongue thrust may require additional orthodontic treatment to help resolve the misalignment of the jaw and teeth that may result from the increased pressure that is being placed upon by the tongue.
What can I do to help my child with Tongue Thrust?
- Have your child evaluated by a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist to develop an appropriate treatment plan for your child.
- Have your child evaluated by an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose, Throat doctor) if you have not already done so, in order to assess your child’s adenoids and tonsils.
- Your child’s Dentist and/or Orthodontist will likely be the one who initially diagnoses the problem, but they will be an integral part of the therapeutic team in order to help monitor your child’s jaw development and alignment of teeth as you move through therapy.
A big step with remediating a tongue thrust is consistent speech therapy to address retraining the position of the tongue as well as to correct the subsequent speech sound errors. A specific home program will be developed for your child and you will be encouraged to practice in order to facilitate carry-over. While a tongue thrust is able to be corrected with intervention, it is imperative that you seek help as soon as you have concerns. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more difficult a tongue thrust is to remediate. For more information on tongue thrusting, please reference the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s website, and speak with your child’s pediatrician or a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist about your concerns.