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Tongue What??

April 9, 2013

It always amazes me just how much there is to the field of speech pathology and audiology. During my acute placement, I learned about how big a role respiration can play in swallowing disorders, and this week at my preschool/school age placement, I learned about another area that I had no idea a speech pathologist would work in; tongue thrust!

Tongue thrust , also known as an orofacial myofunctional disorder is when “the tongue moves forward in an exaggerated way during speech and/or swallowing. The tongue may lie too far forward during rest or may protrude between the upper and lower teeth during speech and swallowing, and at rest” (1)

At birth, everyone has a tongue thrust, and moves their tongue forward rather than backward when swallowing. Over time, as the structures of the face and throat develop, the swallow matures, and children learn to keep their lips closed and move their tongue backward during swallowing. However, sometimes the swallow doesn’t mature the right way, leaving a child with a tongue thrust, which can affect dentition and speech!

Some of the signs of an immature swallow/tongue thrust include:

  • mouth breathing
  • an open bite (a space between the top and bottom teeth when the mouth is closed)
  • messy eating
  • tongue visible at rest
  • dentalizing sounds that are usually made behind the teeth (e.g. the /s/ sound might be pronounced as the “th” sound)

Treating clients with tongue thrust is within the scope of practise for speech pathologists, although special training in orofacial myology is available  for those who wish to specialize in this field. A speech pathologist trained in this area might work on a team with a dentist or orthodontist, and a physician or ENT! Multidisciplinary teamwork for the win again!

Are there any other areas that you didn’t know were included in the field of speech pathology? Leave a comment below!

-Adele Courchesne



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