At the orthodontic practice of Dr. Lisa P. Howard DDS MS, we think about how many processes of the human body take place unconsciously. As we make our way through the day, we are constantly breathing, blinking, keeping our balance, and doing a thousand other tiny things we never give a second thought.
One such unconscious behavior is the way we chew and swallow our food. Virtually from birth, consuming food is such a primal act that it would never occur to most people to pay attention to the way we go about it. Infants swallow with their tongues thrusted against their gums, which is fine for babies and very young children. However, as people get a bit older, they usually change over to a swallow with the tongue placed on the roof of the mouth.
Most people develop this unconscious ability to chew and swallow in the natural manner by about age 7. However, some people never stop swallowing with their tongues against their teeth. The formal medical term for this condition in adults is “orofacial muscular imbalance” or in simple terms… a tongue thrust. It can cause serious problems in the long run, especially with how teeth and jaws come together when children are growing.
Your immediate reaction may be, “So what? How can something as small as the placement of someone’s tongue be such a big deal?” Consider a couple of facts first. Human beings swallow between 1,200 and 2,000 times every day. With each individual swallow, the tongue puts about 4 pounds of pressure on whatever surface it is placed against. The soft and resilient tissue of the roof of the mouth can handle this pressure well, but teeth simply cannot.
The tongue is a very strong muscle and over time will push the front teeth forward and apart from the lower teeth and actually affect jaw growth causing them to grow apart. This creates space between the upper and lower teeth, which is known as an “open bite.” Tongue thrusting can also sometimes lead to an embarrassing lisp because the normal air tight seal is not created to form all words correctly.
The bad bite created by tongue thrusting can be addressed with orthodontic treatment. Dr. Howard can evaluate if braces and appliances can bring the teeth back to their rightful positions and correct adverse jaw growth if treated early before a child stops growing. If it is not caught in time, surgical intervention as an adult is the only way to correct the problem.
Also, be aware if the underlying cause of tongue thrusting such as mouth breathing from allergies or enlarged tonsils and adenoids is not addressed, the orthodontic correction can relapse. Retainer wear to maintain the correction is critical under these circumstances.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that all children have an orthodontic evaluation by age 7. This check-up can catch a number of different problems in time for early orthodontic treatment to be effective. Tongue thrusting is one such problem that can be redirected if caught early.
You are your child’s first defense against orthodontic problems that can hinder healthy teeth and a beautiful smile. Do not hesitate—contact our office to schedule a free consultation today to determine if your child is a candidate for early orthodontic preventative treatment.