What Is a Tongue Crib?

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on July 29, 2023
4 min read

A tongue crib is an orthodontic tool with wiring that's placed inside your mouth and hangs on two rings. These rings are attached to the back of your mouth to prevent the crib from moving. The crib prevents your tongue from pushing towards your front teeth and corrects a condition called tongue thrusting.

Tongue thrusting is a reflex where you place your tongue incorrectly while swallowing, essentially because you push your tongue against your front teeth. The condition is common in kids who suck their thumbs and may become permanent.

In children, the tongue crib makes it impossible for your child to suck their finger or thumb since suction is impossible.

Tongue thrusting may be as a result of:

  • Prolonged thumb sucking or using pacifiers
  • Muscle and physiological abnormalities
  • Use of some artificial nipples to feed infants
  • A large tongue
  • Hereditary factors such as the angle of the jawline
  • Difficulty swallowing due to conditions such as frequent sore throats, large adenoid, and tonsils
  • Nasal congestion and allergies that cause mouth breathing resulting in the tongue being very low

Sucking on their thumb, pacifier, and anything they can get their hands on is a natural habit for children, and that habit begins at birth. Children can have this swallowing pattern until the age of four and will mostly outgrow it naturally as they develop mature swallowing patterns.

If the habit doesn’t naturally end by this age, the thrust is strengthened and becomes difficult to treat without training or a tongue crib.

When your child sucks their finger, they push their tongue hard towards their front teeth. The force alters the position of their developing teeth affecting the proper growth of the mouth and teeth alignment.

It also alters the roof of the mouth and leaves your child with an open bite between the upper front teeth. The gap makes it difficult to chew, speak, and swallow — a condition kids take into adulthood if it's not treated.

A tongue crib immediately stops this behavior by preventing the thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth. Your child no longer gets the gratification that comes with tongue sucking and stops the habit immediately.

A tongue crib also closes the open bite gap, so your kid’s teeth align as they should, putting an end to front teeth protrusion.

Adults and children can get tongue cribs from local dentists once the condition is diagnosed. For children, tongue thrusting becomes a significant problem once they start growing their permanent teeth. If your child still sucks their thumb when they're four years old, visit your dentist to determine if they need a tongue crib to correct the behavior and its effects.

If you're an adult and can't seem to get over the tongue thrusting habit, check with your dentist to see if you need a tongue crib. The dentist will also recommend when to get it if it's needed. A tongue crib will stay in place for six to 12 months, depending on the severity of tongue thrusting.

Mealtimes will likely be a little uncomfortable at first. It helps to stick to soft foods and liquids if the awkwardness is too much. After that, you'll resume your regular eating habits. Talking will also be uncomfortable because your tongue may get sore. Apply some wax on the spots your tongue crib attaches to your bands to prevent soreness.

Sore gums. Your gums may also become irritated or swollen, mainly because of improper brushing techniques. Check your tongue crib after brushing to ensure it's not pressing against your gum.

Cleaning. Like your teeth, a tongue crib is prone to plaque and tartar. Always brush your teeth and crib after meals. If you can’t access your toothbrush, rinse your mouth with plenty of water. Brushing properly around your molars will keep your gums healthy.

Broken tongue crib. In case your tongue crib breaks or becomes loose, see your dentist. Avoid playing with the wires so that they don't become loose on one side.

Used correctly, a tongue crib can significantly improve your oral health. It's safe to use and, unlike braces, it doesn't cause any pain after the initial awkwardness.

Tongue cribs were made to prevent thumb sucking and reverse the effects of tongue thrusting. Since it's connected to the back of your mouth (your molars, specifically), others can't see it. This means you can go about your normal activities comfortably.