Tongue thrust is one of several terms describing a swallowing pattern in which the individual pushes the tongue against or between the teeth. It also refers to inappropriate forward tongue placement at rest or during speech. Typically, the tongue rests with the tip against the roof of the mouth, with the body of the tongue touching the molars. When a swallow occurs, the tongue pushes up and back to clear the saliva. Any deviation from this pattern may indicate a tongue thrust.
Professionals continue to speculate on the cause of a tongue thrust. Some experts point to thumb sucking if it continues for an extended period of time. Others note allergies and enlarged tonsils/adenoids as a cause. In this type of case, children (and adults) often keep their tongue forward in order to maintain a clear airway for breathing. Still others point to poor oral muscle control as the cause of tongue thrust.
The ideal age for a child to enter treatment solely for tongue thrust is around 10 years of age or older since an important part of the program involves intensive home practice. However, children who also exhibit speech errors usually benefit from articulation therapy at an earlier age.
On average, the tongue thrust therapy program is designed to be completed in 6-8 weeks, and emphasizes the use of oral exercises in order to teach correct placement of the tongue for swallowing. Intensive home practice is an important part of the program. For those having both an articulation disorder and a tongue thrust, treatment centers on traditional articulation therapy. By emphasizing the correct placement of the tongue, lips, and teeth for a targeted sound, the tongue thrust is frequently eliminated. Treatment often incorporates muscle re-training exercises as well. The length of time in therapy for these clients is usually dependent upon the severity of the articulation disorder.