What does tongue protrusion indicate and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Tongue protrusion, also known as tongue thrusting, is a common oral habit that involves pushing the tongue forward against the front teeth or between the upper and lower teeth during swallowing, speaking, or at rest. This abnormal tongue posture can have various causes and implications for oral health. In this article, we will explore what tongue protrusion indicates, its potential consequences, and what can be done to address this issue.

Tongue Protrusion: Understanding the Basics

Tongue protrusion refers to the forward positioning of the tongue, either against the front teeth or between the upper and lower teeth. This habit can be observed during various activities, such as swallowing, speaking, or even at rest. While it is normal for infants to exhibit tongue thrusting during the early stages of development, it should naturally diminish as they grow older. However, in some cases, tongue thrusting persists into adulthood, leading to potential oral health problems.

The Importance of Proper Tongue Posture

Proper tongue posture is crucial for maintaining oral health and proper development of the facial structures. When the tongue rests against the roof of the mouth, it helps support the upper jaw, promotes proper alignment of the teeth, and aids in proper swallowing and speech production. However, tongue protrusion disrupts this natural balance and can lead to a range of issues.

Consequences of Tongue Protrusion

Tongue protrusion can have several consequences, including:

  • Malocclusion: The constant pressure exerted by the tongue against the teeth can cause misalignment, leading to malocclusion or a “bad bite.”
  • Speech difficulties: Tongue thrusting can affect speech production, resulting in lisping or other articulation problems.
  • Orthodontic relapse: Individuals who have undergone orthodontic treatment may experience relapse if tongue thrusting is not addressed, as the pressure can push the teeth back into their original positions.
  • Open bite: Tongue thrusting can create an open bite, where the front teeth do not touch when the back teeth are closed together.

Tongue Protrusion: Causes and Habits

Tongue protrusion can have various causes, including:

  • Thumb sucking or pacifier use: Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use can contribute to tongue thrusting habits.
  • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids: Obstructive sleep apnea or enlarged tonsils and adenoids can affect tongue posture and contribute to tongue protrusion.
  • Myofunctional disorders: Certain muscle imbalances or dysfunctions can lead to improper tongue posture.
  • Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to tongue thrusting.

Tongue Protrusion: Treatment and Exercises

If you or someone you know exhibits tongue protrusion, it is essential to seek professional guidance from a dentist or orthodontist. They can assess the underlying causes and recommend appropriate treatment options. Some common approaches include:

  • Tongue exercises: Myofunctional therapy involves specific exercises to strengthen the tongue muscles and promote proper tongue posture.
  • Orthodontic treatment: In some cases, orthodontic appliances, such as tongue cribs or habit-breaking appliances, may be used to discourage tongue thrusting.
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapists can help individuals improve their articulation and correct any speech difficulties resulting from tongue protrusion.
  • Surgical intervention: In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to address underlying anatomical issues contributing to tongue thrusting.

Preventing Tongue Protrusion

While it may not always be possible to prevent tongue protrusion, there are some measures that can help reduce the risk:

  • Encourage proper oral habits: Discourage thumb sucking or pacifier use beyond the appropriate age.
  • Regular dental check-ups: Regular visits to the dentist can help identify any early signs of tongue thrusting and address them promptly.
  • Address breathing issues: If you suspect enlarged tonsils or adenoids, consult a healthcare professional for appropriate treatment.
  • Practice good oral hygiene: Maintaining good oral hygiene habits can help prevent any additional oral health complications.


Tongue protrusion, or tongue thrusting, is a habit that can have significant implications for oral health and proper development of the facial structures. It is important to recognize the signs of tongue protrusion and seek professional guidance for appropriate treatment. With the right interventions, including tongue exercises, orthodontic treatment, or speech therapy, it is possible to correct tongue posture and mitigate the potential consequences of tongue protrusion. Remember, early intervention is key to ensuring optimal oral health and overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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