When your baby is young, it’s normal for their tongue to thrust out because it helps them with nursing. But as they get older, this reflex should disappear to enable them to swallow solid foods and speak. When tongue thrust doesn’t go away, it can cause challenges for your child’s development. Keep reading to learn more about what tongue thrust is, how it can impact your child, and how our pediatric speech-language pathologists can help.

What Is Tongue Thrust?

In simple terms, tongue thrust refers to the habit of pushing the tongue forward in the mouth, against or between the front teeth. While this is fine for nursing babies because it helps them get milk from the breast or bottle, it’s a reflex that should disappear by the time they are about 6 months old.

When the reflex doesn’t disappear, it can impact the way a child swallows or speaks. This condition is also sometimes called reverse swallow or immature swallow because of how it affects a child’s ability to swallow food and liquids. In many cases, tongue thrust can lead to misalignment of the teeth or an open bite due to the constant pressure of the tongue against the backs of the front teeth.

What Causes Tongue Thrust?

Some potential causes of tongue thrust include:

  • Allergies that lead to chronically swollen tonsils
  • Tongue-tie
  • Prolonged use of a bottle or pacifier
  • Habits like thumb sucking

Signs and Symptoms of Tongue Thrust

The most common signs of tongue thrust in babies, toddlers, and young children include:

  • Open mouth resting posture or mouth breathing
  • Difficulty with certain speech sounds, especially “s,” “z,” and “sh”
  • Frequent drooling beyond the toddler years
  • Dental issues, such as an open bite or misalignment
  • Messy or slow eating
  • Frequent lip licking (chapped, sore, or cracked lips)
  • Challenges closing the lips completely
  • Tip of the tongue sticks out between the teeth

Free Developmental Screening

If you’re concerned about your child’s development, you can take advantage of our free online developmental screening. This tool is a convenient way for parents to know with certainty if your child is achieving their developmental milestones or if they need extra support to achieve their brightest future.

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