What is it? A tongue thrust is when the child’s swallow pattern never changes from the ‘reverse swallow’ pattern that babies use. The tongue continues to push forward toward the front teeth when swallowing. The child’s tongue may also do this during speech. This could cause a lisp, but not all lisps are caused by tongue thrust.
How can you tell if your child has a tongue thrust? Your child may breathe with his mouth open a lot, and his tongue may rest in a forward position. He may have trouble pronouncing sounds like S and Z because the tongue wants to push forward, creating a lisp. He may be a messy eater and drinker because the tongue is pushing forward during eating. And, strangely enough, the child may grimace or lick his lips before swallowing, causing them to become chapped. A true tongue thrust will likely cause orthodontic problems and the child may develop an open bite or an overbite as a result of the frequent pressure of the tongue pushing against the top teeth.
A simple test to see if it’s a true tongue thrust is to have your child put some liquid in his mouth, part his lips, and swallow. If any liquid escapes out between his teeth, he probably has a tongue thrust (because his tongue is pushing forward causing the liquid to spill out).
If your child does have a tongue thrust, talk to your dentist to see if an orthodontic device is warranted to keep your child’s tongue away from the front teeth. A speech-language pathologist can help your child practice correct pronunciation of S, Z, and other sounds that may be affected.
To learn more about how to practice the S and Z sounds, please see my online course for parents at www.clarityspeechandlanguage.com.