Dental Education Lecture: Tongue Thrust

Aysia was eight years old when she came to our office for consultation.  Her mom noticed that Aysia had had a habit of tongue thrust.  Upper and bottom front teeth flare out (tilt forward) with space between them (Fig.1,2).  We made a special device (mesh like) as shown in Fig.3,6 and installed it in the mouth. In 7 months, the bottom front teeth move backward by themselves with resultant closure of the spaces (Fig.4,5 as compared to Fig.1,2).

What is tongue thrust?  Every time we swallow, the tip of our tongue rests on the palate (the roof of the mouth).  For a patient with tongue thrust, the tip of the tongue push on the back surfaces of the front teeth every time he or she swallows. Scientific studies have shown that we swallow more than a thousand time every day, even when we are sleeping!  The abnormal pressure repeatedly pushes our front teeth forward with formation of unsightly spaces (Fig.1,2).  For patients with tongue thrust, installment of the special device shown in Fig.3,6 prevents the tip of the tongue exerting abnormal forces against the front teeth.  The latter move to normal position naturally after a little while (Fig.4,5).  Although wearing the device is not pleasant, Aysia keeps her mouth very clean (Fig.5 magnification). 

The position of the upper front teeth is not changed much after wearing the device. This may be due to genetic factor. She will need braces.  But the preventive measure with the special device most likely makes treatment with braces easier and shorter.

Xin Wei, DDS, PhD, MS 1st edition 01/20/2010, last revision 01/21/2010