What is Tongue Thrust?

I receive many calls from parents telling me they are concerned about their child’s tongue thrust. Because there is some confusion about what a tongue thrust really is, I wanted to explain things and clear up some possible misconceptions.

Child Sticking Tongue Out

Tongue thrust, now known as an incorrect tongue resting posture and swallowing pattern, is the most common orofacial myofunctional disorder. Orofacial myofunctional disorders involve inappropriate muscle function and incorrect habits involving the lips, tongue and jaw.  Although many assume that tongue thrust causes dental malocclusions, it is actually abnormal tongue rest position (tongue tip against or between the teeth) that can result in improper orofacial development and misalignment of teeth. This is because only light, continuous pressure is needed to move teeth, whereas the amount of pressure exerted by the tongue during a swallow is not sufficient to move them out of a normal position. That said, a tongue thrust and forward rest posture of the tongue often occur together.  And when they do, a malocclusion is likely to result. Not all people with a tongue thrust will need treatment since “thrusting” alone does not cause malocclusions. However, a tongue thrust should be corrected when it presents a cosmetic problem or when accompanied by abnormal tongue rest posture.

Tongue Thrust

Restoring a normal rest posture of the tongue and lips and eliminating an incorrect swallowing pattern can:

  • Guide the teeth into a more desirable relationship during the growth and development years.
  • Assist the orthodontist in aligning the teeth and jaws properly.
  • Assist stabilization of the teeth during and/or after orthodontic treatment and/or surgery.
  • Enhance overall appearance.

The primary goal of orofacial myofunctional therapy when treating children is to re-establish a normal oral environment in which normal processes of dental eruption can be achieved.  For adults, the goal is to normalize oral postures and functions to create stability in the dental arches.

Here are some signs and symptoms of an incorrect swallowing pattern:

  • Tongue rests forward in the mouth and/or against the upper or lower teeth.
  • Lips apart posture.
  • Tongue moves forward when eating or drinking.
  • Tongue comes forward to meet cup or utensil
  • Lips press together during the swallow.
  • Chewing with lips apart.
  • Messy and noisy eating.
  • Producing  s, z, n, l, t, d, ch, sh or j with tongue between the upper and lower teeth.

Studies have shown that treatment for orofacial myofunctional disorders can be 80-90% effective in correcting swallowing and rest posture functions, and that these corrections are usually maintained years after completing therapy.


Evgenia Stefanaki, SLP, OM, has the private practice "All for Speech Center" in Nicosia, Cyprus and is a nationally certified and licensed Speech & Language Pathologist with specialization in orofacial myofunctional therapy. She writes on the blog about speech & language disorders and orofacial disorders.

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