a girl smiles while holding a dental model and an orthodontic retainer

Tongue Thrust Appliance: What It Is and How It Works


Tongue thrust is a common issue in children, and it’s actually not uncommon in adults either! The tongue should rest on the roof of the mouth, but children with tongue thrusting habits press the tongue against the back of the front teeth instead. This is normal in infancy, but most children outgrow the habit. When they don’t, treatment is recommended.

Signs of Tongue Thrust

Here are some of the most common signs of tongue thrust:

  • Mouth breathing
  • When at rest, the tongue pushes against the backs of the teeth; the tongue may even be visible between the front teeth
  • Inability to close the lips
  • Open bite
  • Lisping or other speech impediments
  • Messy, fast, or slow eating

When tongue thrust is treated, it will usually resolve these issues or prevent them from worsening. Treating tongue thrust proactively as part of early orthodontic treatment can also reduce the amount of time your child will need in braces when they reach adolescence.

What Causes Tongue Thrust?

Tongue thrust can have a number of different causes in both children and adults. These include:

  • Chronic allergies
  • Large or swollen adenoids or tonsils
  • Large tongue
  • Under-descended incisors
  • Thumb or finger sucking
  • Prolonged pacifier or bottle use
  • Developmental delays
  • Tongue tie
  • Reverse swallow pattern

Once the tongue thrusting habit has formed, correcting these underlying causes may not resolve the tongue thrust. 

Understanding Tongue Thrust Appliances

To break the tongue thrusting habit, we use a tongue thrust appliance, which fits behind the teeth, against the roof of the mouth to prevent the tongue from thrusting forward against or between the front teeth. These appliances can be either removable or fixed.

A removable tongue thrust appliance is worn over the teeth, similar to a retainer. It should be worn for a set amount of time each day, then taken off for eating, brushing, and flossing. These appliances are best for moderate tongue thrusting habits.

A fixed tongue thrust appliance is secured to the back teeth with bands and can only be removed by your child’s dentist or orthodontist. For severe tongue thrust, a fixed appliance is recommended because it’s always there to physically prevent improper tongue position and swallowing patterns.

How Tongue Thrust Appliances Work

A tongue thrust appliance has a metal grate that stops the tongue from pressing against or between the front teeth. This retrains the tongue to keep distance from the front teeth and discourages thumb and finger sucking habits. 

Most children need to wear a tongue thrust appliance for anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on how long it takes to break the habit for good and how many hours a day they wear it, if it’s a removable appliance. 

Learn More About Tongue Thrust Appliances

Do you suspect that your child has a tongue thrusting habit? Or maybe you realize you have one yourself and you’d like to consult with an orthodontist? If you’d like to learn more about tongue thrust, contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation at one of our four convenient locations.