Aim: Atypical swallowing is a myofunctional problem consisting of an altered tongue position during the act of swallowing. High incidence in population, multifactorial etiology and the recurring connection with the presence of malocclusions made it a topic of strong interest and discussion in science. The purpose of this review is to illustrate the current orientation on the topic of atypical swallowing, trying in particular to answer two questions: 1) what kind of connection is there between atypical swallowing and malocclusion; 2) what kind of therapy should be used to solve it.
Methods: This review was conducted on the Medline database [www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pubmed] searching for the keywords "atypical swallowing" and "tongue thrust". We examined all the documents from the year 1990 onwards, excluding the ones about syndromic cases of the central motor system.
Results: The causal relation between the two problems seems to be biunique: some authors affirm that this oral habit starts as a compensation mechanism for a preexisting malocclusion (especially in case of open-bite); other texts show that it has a tendency to exacerbate cases of malocclusion; it is also proven that a non-physiological tongue thrust can negatively influence the progress of an ongoing orthodontic therapy. Thereby, the best therapeutic approach seems to be a multidisciplinary one: beside orthodontics, which is necessary to correct the malocclusion, it is essential to set up a myofunctional rehabilitation procedure to correct the oral habit, therefore granting long time permanent results. There is also proof of a substantial difference between the results obtained from early (deciduous or primary mixed dentition) or later treatments.
Conclusion: The biunique causal relation between atypical swallowing and malocclusion suggests a multidisciplinary therapeutic approach, orthodontic and myofunctional, to temporarily solve both problems. An early diagnosis and a prompt intervention have a significantly positive influence on the therapy outcome.