When you swallow, your tongue should be firmly pressed against your upper palate. If you press your tongue against your front teeth instead, it's referred to as tongue thrusting. Tongue thrusting is normal in children, but they usually grow out of it around age seven or eight. If you continue to thrust your tongue as an adult, the repeated force can shift your front teeth out of position. If you're thrusting your tongue when you swallow, read on to learn more about what causes it, its negative effects and how it can be successfully treated to preserve your smile.
What Causes Tongue Thrusting in Adults?
In most cases, adults who thrust their tongues while swallowing simply never grew out of it as children. If you had severe allergies as a child and your nose was constantly congested, this could have prevented you from learning how to swallow normally. This is due to the fact that people who breathe through their mouths have difficulty swallowing correctly.
There's also a genetic link with tongue thrusting. If your family members thrust their tongues while swallowing, you may be more likely to thrust your tongue as well. This can be due to a tongue that's too large or enlarged tonsils that make normal swallowing difficult.
How Does Tongue Thrusting Affect Your Dental Health?
Tongue thrusting will slowly pull your front teeth out of alignment. The force of your tongue hitting the back of your teeth isn't extreme, but people constantly swallow saliva throughout the day. The repeated tongue thrusting will eventually cause your front teeth to skew in the direction of your tongue thrust, which usually causes a pronounced overbite.
In addition, orthodontic treatments are much less effective for adults who are tongue thrusters. Braces work by slowly pulling your teeth towards a normal anatomical position. If you're thrusting against your tongue against your teeth throughout the day, you're fighting against the action of the braces and making them less effective. It will take longer to see results from braces, and your teeth will likely come out of alignment again after treatment unless your tongue thrusting is treated as well.
How Do You Treat Tongue Thrusting in Adults?
You may be able to treat tongue thrusting on your own. If you make a concerted effort to learn how to swallow normally and avoid thrusting your tongue throughout the day, you may be able to train yourself not to do it anymore. This is usually the approach taken with children.
However, it can be difficult for adults to break the habit—after doing it for decades, the tongue thrust swallow becomes deeply ingrained. If you need extra help, you can use an orthodontic treatment known as a tongue crib to break the habit. A tongue crib is a customized dental appliance that's attached to your back molars. It has bars that you can slide your tongue under in order to prevent it from thrusting against your teeth when you swallow. Using a tongue crib makes it much easier to break the habit of tongue thrusting since there's no way to involuntarily thrust your tongue when it's underneath the bars in the appliance.
If you have problems with tongue thrusting and it's affecting your smile, schedule an appointment with an orthodontist in your area. They'll be able to design a custom-made tongue crib and place it in your mouth, which can help you train yourself to swallow normally. After you've broken the habit of tongue thrusting, your orthodontist can create braces that help shift your teeth back into their correct positions, improving your smile.
To learn about this and other orthodontic treatments, contact a local orthodontist.