How to stop sucking tongue

Tongue sucking is a habit that can make it appear as if a person is sucking on a hard candy. It is often categorized as a type of a non-nutritive sucking habit. While this is a rarer habit compared to thumb or finger sucking, tongue sucking can cause pain, discomfort, and also make a person feel self-conscious.

Non-nutritive sucking habits is a term that is used to describe sucking habits that do not supply nutrients for a growing child.  Other sucking habits like thumb sucking, finger sucking, dummy sucking, lip sucking, and cheek sucking are also part of this habit. The habit of sucking is a natural instinct that children develop as infants, usually when they begin breast feeding.  This natural instinct can carry over to other sucking habits which can trigger the release of endorphins, or feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, providing children with psychological-emotional comfort whenever they indulge their habit.  So, it is usually the calming, relaxing effects associated with the sucking habits that make non-nutritive oral habits so appealing to children. These sucking behaviors are considered normal in infants and young children as they are associated with their need to satisfy the urge for contact and security but disappears between the ages of 1 and 3½ years. But persistent non-nutritive sucking habits may result in long-term problems and can affect the teeth and chewing mechanisms, leading to an imbalance between external and internal muscle forces. Even though tongue sucking is usually started in infancy and noticed in children, it can also be noticed among adults. Tongue sucking can also be associated with tongue thrusting sometimes.

What are the causes of tongue sucking in adults?

Due to continued needs of security and anxiety relief, some children may not grow out of this habit and it can persist to adulthood. This maybe an adaptive mechanism for some adults who are experiencing anxiety.

Some medical conditions like cerebral palsy and dystonia can cause this condition in adults. Others like Huntington’s disease, and Tourette syndrome also manifest symptoms that include tongue sucking.

Some medications used for some psychiatric conditions like neuroleptic drugs can also cause a side effect called tardive dyskinesia. This occurs when the person undergoes involuntary movements due to excess neurotransmitter dopamine. This causes uncontrolled movements, like twitching, grimacing, tongue sucking, and thrusting. Other medications like metoclopramide (Reglan). Prochlorperazine (Compazine) also cause tardive dyskinesia and tongue sucking.

What are the effects of tongue sucking?

Some of the negative sequelae associated with prolonged non-nutritional sucking habits include a higher incidence of anterior open bite where the teeth will not be completely aligned when a person takes a bit, maxillary incisor protrusion where the upper teeth are pushed forward, distal step molar relationship, posterior cross bites, and lip incompetence. There can also be compromised ability to control the movement of the tongue, and messy and difficult eating habits. These habits cause the above negative effects by disrupting muscular balance and bone growth, producing changes in the dental arch and occlusal characteristics. hyperplasia, or enlargement, of the tongue, and pain from excessive and prolonged sucking Correcting some of these issues take a lot of time, money and resources which may not be available for some people.

Tongue sucking, especially in teenagers can also cause psychological issues of isolation as individuals may suffer low self-esteem from being teased, and bullied about the unusual appearance of the mouth and face during tongue sucking.

The extent to which oral habits affect a child’s orofacial development depends on the frequency, intensity and duration of the habit. These adverse effects of sucking habits sometimes spontaneously reverse (without further treatment) if sucking habits cease by the time a child is 6 years of age.  If sucking habits continue beyond 6 years of age, reversing the effects of the habit may take longer.

What are the ways to stop sucking tongue?

The best time to stop tongue sucking is in children before they age of six years as they are still growing and developmental processes are not yet complete. It is usually easier to build new pathways in younger children, than adults. There are several programs and therapies specially designed to help children stop tongue sucking. They can include use  of story and activity booklets, finger puppets, progress charts, stickers, information sheets, and a beautiful guided relaxation CD to encourage children to stop such habits and develop healthier oral habits.

For adults, some cases of thumb sucking can be stopped by self-help measures by changing some behaviors associated with the habit. Practices like chewing gum can help interrupt the habit as the mouth will already be busy with chewing. There may also be need to have a form of periodic self-reminder for the individual to stop tongue sucking.

There may be need to involve health professionals to stop this habit. Doctors may suggest the use of a removable plate to act as a reminder to stop tongue-sucking, and it also becomes hard for one to suck with the plate in the mouth. This approach is also known as reminder therapy.

Consulting a speech-language pathologist may help, particularly for a person whose eating and speech are affected due to tongue-sucking. A speech-language pathologist may suggest few exercises and provide a few tools which can help in reducing tongue sucking overtime.

Talking to a psychologist or mental health therapist would be helpful, as they can examine and help in suggesting other methods to relieve stress or anxiety. Tongue-sucking is often paired with anxiety and stress disorders as well.

So if you suck tour tongue and want to stop, try the self-help methods and if you still need help, consult with your health professionals.