Top 5 Exercises That Can Help With A Tongue Thrust
A tongue thrust, which is also known as an abnormal swallowing pattern can contribute to a myriad of cascading overall health effects if not addressed adequately. There are a variety of different orofacial and oropharyngeal exercises that can help ameliorate this condition; and below are the top 5 exercises that can help you with your tongue thrust.
Disclaimer: The exercises provided in this text are not intended to cure a condition. For a proper assessment and therapy, it is advised to see an Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist.
What Is A Tongue Thrust?
A tongue thrust also known as an abnormal swallow, is when the tongue pushes up against the teeth in an unnatural way contributing to malocclusions or crooked teeth. A tongue thrust can be very detrimental, not just to the oral cavity, but to your overall health as well.
The abnormal forced being placed upon the dentition by the tongue can create craniofacial abnormalities or orofacial changes. We swallow upto 2,000 times a day consciously and subconsciously; and with every swallow, your tongue can exert a force of up to 6 pounds worth of pressure. This pressure plus the amount of times that you swallow throughout the day are the culprits of creating damage to the structures of the head and neck. Although the pressure of each swallow is detrimental, the oral resting posture or the way your tongue sits while at rest is far more detrimental to your health because it is more constant.
Muscles of the tongue
The tongue is a thick vascular mass that is very unique as it helps cleanse our teeth, shape the way our teeth sit in our mouth, it aids with speech, helps us chew and swallow, and it helps to shape our airway to name a few. The tongue is also critical for our proper growth and development, as digestion begins in the tip of the tongue. Therefore, proper function is crucial for overall health.
The tongue is a very complex organ that is composed of eight different muscles. It has four intrinsic muscles, which are located entirely inside of the tongue and help to change its shape. It is also made up of four extrinsic muscles which originate outside of the tongue, but yet are inserted inside of the tongue and are the ones responsible for the movement of your tongue. All of these muscles play a significant role and if they are not working adequately, problems will arise.
In the event that the tongue is restricted, as in the case of a restricted lingual frenum (which is when the string on the underside of your tongue is short and restricted), the tongue will not be able to move adequately resulting in a variety of detrimental effects not just to your oral cavity, but to your entire body as a whole. Some of the issues that may present due to having a restricted lingual frenum include but are not limited to:
- A tongue thrust
- Crooked teeth
- Airway problems like obstructive sleep apnea
- It has been correlated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- TMJ or jaw joint pain
- Digestive problems
- Mouth breathing
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
- And many, many more….
Please see our video on the consequences of having a restricted frenulum to learn more about the issues that arise from having these restrictions.
There are many factors that can contribute to having an orofacial muscle imbalance or imbalances of the muscles of the head and neck. But when a tongue thrust is present, the muscles of the head and neck will not be able to function properly leading to orofacial imbalances and the aforementioned health effects among others.
The position of the tongue is key. Therefore, if the tongue is sitting on the floor of the mouth, in between or against the front teeth or other than on the roof of your mouth at rest, this is when real damage begins to set in.
If the tongue sits too far forward in the mouth, it will make it impossible for the individual to retract it and place it within the oral cavity in the one-tenth of a second that is needed in order to complete a normal swallow. Therefore, if the tongue is restricted, as in the case of a restricted lingual frenum; this restriction can contribute to this abnormal swallowing pattern known as a tongue thrust, as it will be obvious that the person will not be able to raise their tongue up to the roof of the mouth with ease in order to create a proper suction during the swallowing process.
Why Does A Tongue Thrust Develop?
There are a variety of different factors that can contribute to having a tongue thrust, some of which include but are not limited to:
- Enlarged tonsils/adenoids: when you have enlarged tonsils, the tonsils will not allow the tongue to properly sit in the oral cavity. Having enlarged tonsils will force the tongue to sit low and forward on the floor of the mouth, pushing it onto the anterior teeth. This will later contribute to the tongue’s force pushing onto the anterior teeth and contribute to an anterior open bite or a big space between the upper and lower front teeth as seen on the image below.
- Thumb sucking: when an individual sucks on their thumb or fingers, it places an abnormal force upon the dentition contributing to crooked teeth, open bites between the front teeth (as noted above), and it further contributes to deforming the roof of the mouth by creating a high vaulted palate or a collapsed palate to name a few. This deformity caused to the palate will further decrease your upper nasal airway space, which is your nasal airways; and further contribute to other issues such as mouth breathing down the road.
- Pacifier and/or baby bottle use: The use of pacifiers or baby bottles can have detrimental effects, not just to the teeth, but to the proper development of the structures of the head and neck. Any abnormal force being placed onto the dentition and/or orofacial structures will impede proper formation of those structures; hence contributing to muscular imbalances and many health issues down the road as stated above.
- Allergies: Having uncontrolled allergies, which contribute to mouth breathing can also contribute to this dysfunction. When there are allergies present that impede you from properly being able to breathe through the nose, the tongue will assume an unnatural position and sit low and forward on the floor of the mouth in order to help open up your airway so that you can breathe through your mouth. Mouth breathing on the other hand, has its own detrimental effects. For more information on mouth breathing please check out my article on mouth breathing and impacts on oral health.
- And many more… For a complete course on how this abnormal swallowing pattern affects your overall health please visit our course on Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders and Their Impact on Health.
Tongue Thrust Treatment
A tongue thrust can be successfully treated with Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy. The Myofunctional Therapist is a trained therapist that will help you establish proper orofacial balance. They work collaboratively with various medical and dental professionals in order to get to the root of the cause in order to help you establish that proper orofacial balance and function. Through the use of various non-invasive simple orofacial and tongue exercises, they can help you achieve great results and help prevent further damage to the orofacial structures (structures of the head and neck). If you feel that you may be a victim of having a tongue thrust please make sure to check out our checklist to see if you are a candidate for orofacial myofunctional therapy.
Top 5 Exercises For A Tongue Thrust
First, before we begin we must understand where the incisive papilla is located. The incisive papilla (also known as “The Spot”), is located just behind your upper front teeth on the gums, and this is where the tip of your tongue should sit at all times.
- Tongue Rest Position: Gently raise your entire tongue up to the roof of your mouth, while keeping the tip of your tongue in contact with “The Spot”, close your lips, relax and breathe through your nose, while keeping your teeth slightly apart, and hold for 30minutes a day (you may start with 10minutes and work your way up). A great way to do this and establish muscle memory, is by placing a small orthodontic rubber band on the tip of your tongue (as seen in the image below), and then placing the tip of your tongue on “The Spot”. You may watch tv or read a book during this exercise. Make sure you don’t talk.
- Tongue Clicks: Suction the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, smile and then make a clicking sound.
- T, D, L, N Sounds: Practice saying the following words, and make sure that the tip of your tongue is on “The Spot” when pronouncing the T, D, L, and N sounds (this is where the tip of your tongue should be when pronouncing these sounds, the tongue should not come forward pushing against the front teeth): Ten, Tide, Date, Not, Lean, Tot, and Load.
- Trace The Alphabet: with the tip of your tongue, trace the alphabet on the roof of your mouth.
- Tongue Glide: Suction the entire tongue up to the roof of your mouth, and gently glide the tongue back towards the throat.
There are many oral and health effects that are associated with a tongue thrust; therefore addressing this issue at an early age is key.