It may be cute when a young child has the tip of her tongue sticking out or lisps when he tries to say words like "sun," but can't pronounce the first consonant. This is typically caused by an early orthodontics problem called abnormal fronting, or tongue thrusting, according to the American Speech Language Hearing Association. Fortunately, there are treatments for the problem, the most common of which is fitting the child with a tongue thrust appliance.
Tongue thrusting can be caused by several things. And although it's normal for young babies to push food out of their mouths while they're still learning to use their tongues, this generally happens less as the child develops. Kids with incisors that haven't descended completely are often tongue thrusters, and there is some scientific evidence to suggest this problem is associated with other developmental delays as well, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
In children who have a thumb-sucking habit or whose bite is less connected than it should be, tongue thrust might happen when they are swallowing. In general, the condition is most commonly seen in children under seven years old, but rare cases of adults with tongue thrust can also occur.
What to Use
The reason for tongue thrusting determines the form of treatment that is most effective. In cases of simple thrusting, patients are usually fitted with a stainless steel tongue thrust appliance resembling a mouth guard – fitted comfortably in the patient's mouth. It might only be necessary to wear it for a few hours a day and at night, suggests RDH Magazine, but the orthodontist may recommend wearing it permanently for a specific period of time.
How It Works
The device comes in several different models that target specific tongue-related problems. Some models have a grid behind the teeth that blocks the patient's tongue from pushing forward between the top and bottom incisors. Another model, known as a "palatal crib" in a study by Case Reports in Dentistry, has an acrylic bead toward the back of the device that rests over the rear third of the tongue. This device acts as a retainer when the patient swallows.
You can also invest in a "hybrid" appliance model aimed at curing thumb-sucking as well as tongue thrusting, and this works by positioning the tongue correctly and serving as a reminder when the person indulges in a habit he or she needs to stop.
Where to Get One
Tongue thrust appliances have to be fitted to the patient's mouth by an orthodontist, and are based on dental impressions that allow the child to receive an item that fits their needs specifically. They may also require adjustment as the child develops, so it's essential to get the appliance made by a professional specializing in pediatric dentistry. In many cases, the orthodontist will also recommend oral or speech therapy to help train the patient out of the habit.
Maintaining Oral Health During Use
As with any other dental device, wearing a tongue thrust appliance requires you to pay extra attention to the child's oral health regimen. Apart from daily brushing and flossing, wearing any dental appliance is a good reason to teach the child to use Colgate® Minions™ Bello™ Bubble Fruit® Mouthwash, which helps to clean his mouth and swish away any particles that are missed when brushing. This prevents the buildup of plaque that can cause staining and cavities, and reduces the risk of losing primary teeth before they're ready to fall out on their own.
The healthier a child's baby teeth are, the more likely he is to keep them until the permanent teeth erupt. This avoids the need for orthodontic treatment such as space maintainers for teeth that are lost prematurely.