Tongue sucking is a habit that can make it appear as if you’re sucking on a hard candy or lozenge.

While a rarer habit compared to thumb or finger sucking, tongue sucking can cause pain, discomfort, and also make a person feel self-conscious. The condition affects children as well as adults.

If you or a loved one has experienced a tongue-sucking habit, there are at-home and medical interventions that can help. Keep reading to find out more about how you can overcome your tongue-sucking habit.

The cause of tongue sucking can depend on a few factors. It could be a habit established in childhood, or it could be due to a medical condition or medication.

In children

From an early age, non-nutritive sucking, which is sucking not from a bottle or to gain nutrition, provides relaxation.

A 2014 research review showed that children may suck a pacifier or their finger usually until they’re 4 years old as a means of comfort, especially before they take a nap or go to bed.

Often, sucking as a non-nutritive habit goes along with other comforting habits, such as holding a:

  • blanket
  • stuffed animal
  • doll

Some children may not “grow out of” tongue sucking past the time that it would be expected. This could be related to a condition that affects physical health or the need for continued security and anxiety relief.

Sometimes, tongue sucking may accompany other conditions. An example is a tongue thrust, which is also known as a reverse swallow.

This condition may cause a person’s tongue to rest against the upper or lower teeth instead behind them.

In adults

In adults, tongue sucking may be an adaptive behavior to relieve anxiety or even as a side effect of medications or medical conditions. An example is the condition tardive dyskinesia.

This occurs when a person experiences involuntary movements due to an excess of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Symptoms may include:

  • facial grimacing
  • jerking movements of the arms or legs
  • sticking out the tongue
  • sucking movements of the mouth, which may include tongue sucking

A person may experience tardive dyskinesia due to taking medications such as metoclopramide (Reglan).

Prochlorperazine (Compazine) and neuroleptic medications, also known as antipsychotics, used to treat schizophrenia may cause tardive dyskinesia symptoms as well.

Sometimes, a person with certain medical conditions may experience symptoms similar to tardive dyskinesia. These include:

If you start to experience tongue sucking as an adult, and it’s hard to manage, talk with your doctor about potential underlying conditions or medications that may be causing this to occur.

There are a few methods you can try on your own to stop tongue sucking, but if those don’t work, you can enlist the help of a professional.

On your own

There are methods you can try at home to stop sucking your tongue if it’s related to a habit, not a medical condition. These include:

  • Utilize other approaches to interrupt your tongue sucking habit. This could include chewing gum.
  • Setting periodic reminders to interrupt your thoughts and help you identify if you’re sucking your tongue. Examples could include a timer that goes off every 15 to 30 minutes or an app set to remind you.

With help from a pro

If these prove ineffective, there are ways a doctor can help you stop tongue sucking:

  • Creating a removable plate can serve as a reminder to stop tongue sucking as well as make tongue sucking harder to do. This approach is known as “reminder” therapy.
  • Talking with a therapist or mental health professional can help identify underlying causes of why you may suck your tongue. This could include as an anxiety reliever. A therapist may help you identify other methods to relieve anxiety and stress that could allow you to break your tongue-sucking habit.
  • Consulting a speech-language pathologist may be helpful, particularly for a person whose speech or eating may be affected due to tongue sucking. A speech-language pathologist can recommend exercises and tools that can ideally help reduce tongue sucking over time.

Sometimes, you may need to try several approaches over time. Tongue sucking is a habit, which means that it takes time to develop and time to break.

Tongue sucking can lead to several side effects. These may include:

  • affected bite, such as an open bite or cross bite
  • hyperplasia, or enlargement, of your tongue
  • lesions or injuries to your tongue
  • malocclusions, or improper positioning of your teeth
  • pain from excessive and prolonged sucking

A 2015 research review showed that there are also emotional effects from tongue sucking. You may feel self-conscious about your tongue sucking since it’s often a habit you’re unaware that you’re doing.

The extent that these affect you may depend upon:

  • the length of time you’ve sucked your tongue
  • how many hours a day you do it
  • the intensity of which you do it

If you have tried steps at home to stop your tongue-sucking habit and found yourself unable to stop, you should talk with a doctor. Your doctor can help you determine methods that may help you quit.

This may involve assessments with a dentist or other related professionals who can help to identify what may be affecting your teeth or jaw positioning.

If you are concerned about your child’s tongue sucking habit, talk with your child’s pediatrician.

Your child’s pediatrician can discuss milestones with you and if tongue sucking or other forms of non-nutritive sucking are appropriate for your child’s age.

A pediatrician may recommend medical specialists or other interventions that can help your child break their tongue-sucking habit.

Tongue sucking can affect those of all ages and for different reasons. You can also try mindfulness to practice quitting on your own if that works for you.

It’s important to seek medical treatment if you need help stopping a tongue-sucking habit. Addressing the concern may help with your:

  • comfort
  • speech
  • confidence