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How Tongue Placement Impacts Child Development

Kid and a dentist
You might start taking your child to a pediatric dental office for many reasons. One important reason is to get your child started with interceptive orthodontics.

While orthodontic treatment is generally started in preteen or teen years, the focus during that time is for malocclusions or abnormalities when the teeth are closed. With interceptive orthodontics, the goal is to influence the development of the maxilla and mandible - the upper and lower jaws - and the soft palate.

Interceptive orthodontics can include appliances like palatial expanders and rubber spacers. If your child has crowded baby teeth, extractions can also be an interceptive treatment.

However, interceptive orthodontics will only be meaningful if your child develops proper tongue placement. 

Tongue Placement

Improper tongue placement may seem like an innocuous issue, but it can cause your child's facial development and teeth to become misplaced.

When the tongue is at rest, it should sit just behind the front teeth. By making a t or d sound, you can find the area where the tip of your tongue should rest. The rest of the tongue should be pressing against the soft palate. The tongue doesn't have to press forcefully against the roof of the mouth, just enough so that the lips and teeth can close comfortably.

Instead of keeping this ideal position, some children let their tongues drop to the lower jaw. If your child develops a tongue thrust, they will likely develop improper tongue positioning.

Causes of Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrust is simply a behavior where the tongue slips between the front teeth. Tongue thrust often happens while a child swallows or speaks. Early tongue thrusting isn't a big cause for concern, as most infants start with this behavior and then correct it as they grow.

However, some children do not grow out of this habit. Tongue thrusting is especially common in children with:
  • Thumb-sucking habits
  • Nasal congestion or allergies
  • Enlarged adenoids
If your child doesn't learn proper tongue placement, he or she can cause the soft palate to narrow because tongue pressure isn't helping it to maintain its width. Besides changing the soft palate, your child's tongue thrust could push the front teeth forward into an overbite.

Class II Bite Abnormality

Bites are broken up into three classes: I, II, and III. A class I bite is a normal bite, but a tongue thruster typically has a class II bite, where the upper jaw projects further than the lower jaw.

If your child has a class II bite, you may notice that they have:
  • Have a receding chin
  • Have a longer midface
  • Have a jawline angled downward
  • Have a crooked or more prominent nose bridge
The child might also breathe through their mouths. While fixing tongue posture can certainly improve the previously mentioned aesthetics, your child needs to fix their posture to avoid functional ramifications.

Functional Issues 

Children who breathe through their mouths tend to have bad breath or dry mouth, which lets oral bacteria thrive.

Some children develop a lisp from their tongue thrust or other speech issues. Extra pressure is placed on the back teeth because the front teeth do not meet. This can cause bruxism, fractured enamel, and TMJ disorders.

Lastly, because the upper palate becomes narrow, your child's tongue will have to fall back, meaning that he or she is more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

You don't want interceptive orthodontic treatments to be in vain. Once your child's palate has expanded, you and the pediatric dentist can teach your child to maintain that space with proper tongue placement.

Contact us at Bay Pediatric Dentistry today. We have a visiting orthodontist, so you can ask questions about malocclusions and proper facial development.