Exercises to Correct Tongue Thrust in a Growing Child

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There's not much more endearing than a gurgling baby learning how to eat and speak. And although the condition of tongue thrust is normal in infants – who are, after all, learning how to use their bodies – it usually disappears as they grow. For some kids, however, it remains after infancy, hindering their speech, ability to swallow and sometimes certain aspects of their facial development and appearance. Tongue thrust exercises can be used by speech therapists and doctors to help children speak and swallow properly, and once your child has been properly diagnosed, you can try these effective exercises at home, too.

Its Effect on the Mouth

Otherwise known as an orofacial myofunctional disorder, or reverse swallow pattern, tongue thrust happens when the tongue is situated too far forward in the mouth or extends between the top and bottom teeth while swallowing or speaking.

You might not think a dentist would play a treatment role for kids with tongue thrust, but, explains the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), placement of the tongue and prolonged pressure against your teeth can impede tooth eruption, positioning and jaw alignment. In other words, proper care not only includes your dentist, but also an orthodontist, doctor and speech pathologist.

Before starting tongue thrust exercises, a team of professionals can determine if less-noticeable conditions are present, such as an obstructed airway, malocclusion, respiratory problem or imperfect teeth eruption through the gums. In fact, 80 percent of children with tongue thrust have an underlying airway or respiratory problem, as reported by the International Association of Orofacial Myology (IAOM).

Once any underlying problems have been corrected, these tongue thrust exercises can mitigate the condition so your child can have an easier time speaking, swallowing and, eventually, socializing. The key to successful therapy techniques is to help your child habituate proper tongue placement and swallow movements. You can do these at home, but pathologists at SpeechPathology stress the importance of meeting with a professional to help pinpoint which exercises will help your child.

Using Flashcards

One common exercise uses word lists to help children identify the correct spot on the mouth to place their tongue when swallowing. It's particularly effective in showing your child where proper tongue placement on the palate is.

Certain phonemes, or individual sounds, naturally require you to place your tongue at the proper spot on the roof of your mouth. The letters "D," "T," "K" and "L" produce the best phonemes for your child to practice if he or she has a case of tongue thrust. How to apply them:

  1. Show a flashcard with each letter. And for each letter, show the proper mouth placement.

  2. Have your child practice each letter, one at a time, to help them find the spot on the hard palate where the tongue would naturally sit when swallowing.

  3. Work just with letters, at first, until your child becomes comfortable with each correct pronunciation and placement.

  4. Follow this step by sounding out the letter, maintaining position and swallowing.

Singing Along with a Favorite Song

This exercise, according to Almaden Valley Speech Therapy, emulates parts of the word list concept, allowing your child to pick his or her favorite song and sing along using the sounds "lah" or "dah" in the corresponding melody. It's an effective activity for helping your child locate correct placement without the tedium of concentrating solely on the result. Music is a surefire way to engage a student, and can make learning how to adjust one's tongue placement interesting and fun.

'Tongue Trivia'

This exercise is effective for gaining tongue control and developing placement awareness. Kids with tongue thrust need to first become aware of the incorrect placement, and playing games can facilitate the process. Create trivia cards around your child's favorite subjects and ask questions that require one-word responses. Ask your child to trace the letters of the word on the top of their mouth with their tongue, then they can then share their answer. Reinforce this corrective technique by rewarding your child with a choice of toothbrush or fun mouthwash, like Colgate® Minions™ Bello™ Bubble Fruit® – the flavors of which keep with the fun nature of oral care.

Like with any exercise routine, regular exercises are key to seeing improvement in your child's condition, and start early to avoid any future orthodontic problems for a straighter smile well into adulthood.

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