I’ve been approached by clinicians around the globe asking if I’ve noticed an increase in the incidence of tongue thrust and my take on it. Although, I can’t say that I’ve noticed an increase in the percentage of tongue thrust rising in a classroom, because I am only treating tongue thrust and I’m not in a classroom. What I can tell you is that the tongue thrust characteristics are changing and some of those changes are what led to the additional considerations and exercises added last year to the Stone Tongue Thrust Protocol-2.
Additionally, as I have worked with tongue thrust elimination over the past 20 years some trends have been noted and generally accepted in this population.
#1- Early intervention is best, usually
Because elimination of tongue thrust involves retraining automatic swallow and resting muscles the recommendation for intensive intervention is held until the child is old enough to actively pay attention and the muscle awareness and control can be taught, generally age 8. Individuals over age 8 can efficiently learn a posterior swallow and elevated resting posture to eliminate tongue thrust with skilled training.
Does this create a conundrum for the clinician and/or parent who sees a tongue thrust at age 5 but is recommended to wait til 8? Is it easier to reverse habits younger? Will earlier intervention potentially reshape the development of the oral cavity and impede further progression of the reverse swallow and tongue thrust posture?
#2- Chewing is changing, generally
Because our diets have changed over the past 50 years, it does make sense that the development of our mouths has changed as well. Because I have only been a practicing clinician for the past 25 years, I will speak to the changes that I have witnessed both personally and professionally and how they overlap.
With the increased marketing of processed and convenience foods there has been a shift away from a cup, plate, and spoon to transition a baby from the breast to the table. Now the transition looks like any variety of spill proof sippy tippy cups and pouches or bags that the baby can self feed as soon as they can hold the cup or bag.
Babies are completely skipping the developmental stage of biting with those adorable first 4 teeth and learn that they chew using their tongue sucking and mashing more than a rotational chew using their teeth and tongue in tandem. This lack of chewing has altered the developmental swallow reflexes and muscle development of the jaw, lips and tongue.
#3- Breathing is changing, increasingly
Additionally, food and environmental allergies which used to be rare in children, especially under the age of 8, are now the norm. Allergies often result in stuffiness and congestion which results in breathing through the mouth rather than the nose because it is a more open and unrestricted airway.
Similar to the above example with biting and chewing, altering the way a child holds their mouth in resting posture for breathing has huge implications for the oral cavity development. If the mouth is open to breathe, the tongue naturally rests on the floor of the mouth to create an open airway. If the mouth is always open with the tongue down, the tongue muscles do not develop properly and the palate does not spread naturally because there is no mechanism to hold and expand the face properly.
Hence, small upper dental arches with crowded teeth requiring palate spreaders and orthodontia. Decreased chewing and development of the jaw, tongue, and lip muscles resulting in weak and malformed jaws as the child ages.
So what if we could go back and potentially undo some of these contributing factors at the earliest of ages rather than waiting until they are 8 and already entrenched in the reverse swallow tongue thrust patterns? This idea is so radical and revolutionary it just might change the face of tongue thrust!
Introducing the Stone Tongue Thrust Protocol-Early Intervention Program (STTP-EIP)
As with any early intervention program, earlier is better! The mission here is to eliminate tongue thrust using the natural developmental structure and function of childhood development.
This program is implemented in tandem with parents and early childhood teachers such as day care and preschool programs. Education is provided for stepping through the developmental eating phases similar to how we step through language development with a communication rich environment.
Children who are identified at risk can be started on the STTP-EIP as soon as they begin to transition from breast or bottle and at any point along the developmental continuum when risk factors are identified.
The STTP-EIP is not expected to prevent all tongue thrust nor is it a replacement for the skilled intervention of the STTP-2. What it is designed to do is increase awareness and promote eating, swallowing and resting posture that facilitates effective development of facial and oral muscles that encourage jaw growth, tongue strength and facial posture of normal development.
If you would like to join the conversation about the STTP-EIP and find out how you can use it as a parent, an early intervention provider, or an SLP stay tuned to the https://stonetonguethrustprotocol.com/ as the webinar and training courses are announced.