A tongue crib is a metal device that fits in the top front of your mouth.

It is generally used for elementary- or middle-school-aged children who have developed teeth, jaw, muscular, and/or skeletal abnormalities because of thumb and finger sucking or a condition called tongue thrust.

An orthodontist or dentist may recommend that your child use a tongue crib for several months to deter these behaviors.

While this can be an effective treatment for your child, there are other options that can be used to curb these behaviors as well.

You may decide to use a combination of interventions or just try a tongue crib to help correct thumb and finger sucking and tongue thrusting.

A tongue crib is an orthodontic appliance with a metal grate blocking the top front roof of the mouth.

This grate makes it impossible for your child to suck on their thumb or fingers because they cannot achieve suction when sucking.

It also may help correct your child’s tongue position by encouraging the tongue to rest downward and backward instead of forward and upward, which can cause many problems in the mouth.

Your dentist or orthodontist will likely recommend a tongue crib or other orthodontic device if they notice signs of permanent damage from your child’s sucking behavior or tongue position.

One study found that a tongue crib resulted in participants quitting the sucking habit, as well as improved overbites and other concerning orthodontic conditions.

Tongue cribs can be removable or permanent, depending on your child’s needs.

Your child may be able to have a removable crib if you feel that they’ll remember to wear it regularly and not lose it.

You may be more likely to choose a permanent tongue crib if you feel that your child may be tempted to take it out frequently or not wear it at all.

Your orthodontist or dentist may advise your child to use the tongue crib for several months or up to a year to help break their sucking or thrusting habits.

A tongue crib can discourage thumb and finger sucking and reguide the tongue’s movements.

Thumb and finger sucking can cause tongue thrust, but you do not have to suck on your thumb or fingers to develop that condition.

Thumb and finger sucking and tongue thrusting behaviors can create problems in the mouth, including:

  • damage to a child’s top front teeth
  • alteration to a child’s bite, such as developing an overbite or open bite
  • an abnormal swallowing technique
  • problems with jaw alignment
  • altered speech patterns

Infants, toddlers, and young children often suck their thumb or fingers for comfort, which is considered normal, low risk behavior.

But when a child gets older, this behavior, as well as tongue thrusting, can be concerning. It can affect:

  • adult teeth
  • skeletal development
  • jaw alignment
  • speech

How to tell

Your child may have tongue thrusting if:

  • Their tongue moves forward against their front teeth when pronouncing certain letters.
  • They breathe through their mouth.
  • They have cracked or chapped lips regularly.
  • Their lips remain open when their mouth is in a resting position.

Other devices

A tongue crib is just one type of orthodontic appliance that you can use for thumb and finger sucking or tongue thrusting. Other similar devices include:

  • a tongue trainer
  • a tongue rake
  • Hawley’s appliance
  • a tongue screen
  • a rolling tongue-sucking appliance

Some of these appliances feature rakes or spikes that redirect the child’s tongue or discourage sucking.

Some feature plastic rolling devices that the tongue can move in place of thumb or finger sucking.

Others are like cribs and block a child’s ability to suck fingers and thumbs or thrust the tongue without additional sensory features.

Your dentist or orthodontist may also recommend other treatments or devices depending on your child’s needs. These may include an expander or braces.

You may consider a tongue crib or another orthodontic appliance for your child as they approach the elementary school or begin to lose their baby teeth.

The period of time when a child has a mix of both baby and adult teeth is called the mixed-dentition years.

This is the period when orthodontic interventions can be very successful as the child’s skeletal system matures but is still growing and developing and not yet fixed.

You can seek a tongue crib for your child even if there are no signs of permanent damage to the teeth or jaw.

You may simply want your child to break their thumb or finger sucking habit as they grow older.

Your dentist or orthodontist should be able to talk to you about the pain or discomfort a tongue crib might cause your child.

The insertion of the tongue crib could cause some discomfort. Your child may be bothered by the device in the first few days or weeks as they adjust to the modification in their mouth.

Tongue cribs feature a few metal bars that rest near the top of the mouth near the front teeth. The bars look like a crib or grate.

Permanent tongue cribs attach to the top molars with a wire that wraps around them and then runs along the inside top of the teeth to the crib.

You may need to help your child break their habit of tongue or finger sucking before they seek any orthodontic, speech, or other interventions.

One study cautions against the use of relying only on a tongue crib or other orthodontic appliance to reform a child’s sucking behavior. It found that a child may go back to sucking behaviors after removing the appliance.

The study recommended using other interventions in addition to the appliance to stop this behavior. This includes working with the child to change the behavior.

It’s important for your child to become self-motivated to quit the behavior in order to successfully break it in the long run.

Experts recommend finding a behavior-based program that includes positive reinforcement for long-term change.

You may consider seeking help from a speech therapist to correct the effects of thumb and finger sucking and tongue thrusting.

Speech therapists can work with your child to help correct speech development issues as well as their swallowing technique. These interventions include mouth exercises as well as speech drills.

Sessions with speech therapists can last a few months or longer depending on the severity of your child’s condition.

If needed, you can seek training from a speech therapist or another specialist to give you advice on how to encourage your child to stop the behavior.

These techniques can help you correct your child’s mouth position when at rest and other harmful habits developed from thumb sucking or tongue thrusting.

These techniques may help your child correct their behaviors more effectively.

If your child still sucks their thumb or fingers in elementary school or beyond, or if you notice a speech impediment, you may want to schedule an orthodontist consultation.

An orthodontist consultation may also be recommended if you notice that they rest their mouth in an open position or seem to have an abnormal swallowing behavior.

It’s important to correct these behaviors in their middle childhood to avoid developing more serious mouth, face, and jaw conditions later on.

You may want to consider a tongue crib if your older child still sucks their thumb or fingers. This behavior can lead to problems in their teeth, jaw, skeleton, and muscles.

A tongue crib can help them stop the habit as well as correct damage the behavior has caused to their mouth.

Talk to your orthodontist or dentist about using a tongue crib and reach out to a speech development specialist if your child experiences unusual speech patterns or swallowing technique.