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How Your Tongue can Affect Braces

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

The tongue is a very strong muscle, and when it moves incorrectly, the muscles of the mouth can’t function properly. If your tongue habitually pushes forward during swallowing, it can cause your teeth to move. This habit is known as a “tongue thrust.” Most people diagnosed with a tongue thrust habit consistently breathe through their mouths and exhibit speech problems. The majority sucked their thumbs as children.

Identifying a tongue thrust habit before starting with dental braces is very important. The muscles of our mouth and face are nature’s orthodontics. Strong lips keep your front teeth in their proper position. Teeth that protrude forward creating an overbite or “buck teeth” appearance are often the result of weak lips caused by a habit of mouth breathing. Constant drooling in young children with tongue thrust and mouth breathing issues may cause embarrassment to the child as they get older. Their lips are simply not strong enough to contain the saliva.

Image from Indian Journal of Dental Sciences- modified tongue crib appliance for patients with a tongue thrust habit. The tongue feels pressure from the appliance prongs as it pushes forward towards the front teeth (tongue thrust habit).

It’s clear to see then, that strengthening the lips, eliminating problems with a mouth breathing habit and re-training the tongue to swallow correctly are all crucial to facial growth and development and to successful orthodontic outcomes.

If you have braces, a tongue thrust makes it difficult for the devices to close the spaces between your teeth and reposition your teeth. When the muscles of your mouth and face are not in balance, solving orthodontic problems is much more challenging. Orthodontists commonly recommend appliances to help remind the tongue not to push forward. For many patients, these appliances can be uncomfortable and don’t address the underlying cause of the problem. The appliances may help, but what happens when the appliance is removed and the tongue thrust remains? The teeth will move back to their original position.

A common solution to this is to cement a permanent retainer to the backside of the front teeth. It can work, but the apparatus can prevent proper flossing of the teeth to keep the gums healthy. Some permanent retainers even have full metal bands that anchor the retainer wire to several of the front teeth. Unfortunately, when you smile, the metal bands are visible.

This image shows a permanent fixed retainer used to prevent the tongue thrust habit from pushing the lower front teeth forward. The wire makes it difficult to clean around and in between the teeth. The result is excessive tartar build up which leads to unhealthy gums and tooth decay.

It’s important to know your options when it comes to correcting a tongue thrust. As a myofunctional therapist, I work with orthodontists to eliminate the habit of tongue thrust through specialized exercises that address the cause of the problem. Sometimes temporary appliances that work in combination with myofunctional therapy are used for cases that are more complex, but more often than not, myofunctional therapy alone eliminates the tongue thrust habit.

The results are beautiful straight teeth, no more tongue thrusting, better health because patients now swallow properly, correct nose breathing, lips are closed, and posture improves. Don’t throw money away on expensive orthodontic treatment before ensuring your tongue thrust habit is addressed.

If you’re struggling with a mouth breathing or tongue thrust habit, go to the Contact Page of my website to request an informational phone call. I’m here to help!

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