A sleeping baby sucking their thumb.

What Is Myofunctional Therapy?

Did you know that your tongue's resting position can impact everything from chewing and swallowing to the way you look and speak? Fortunately, you can correct an abnormal tongue position with myofunctional therapy. This specialized training can improve your oral health and enhance your smile. Keep reading to learn more about orofacial myofunctional disorders and their treatment.

What is Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy?

Myofunctional therapy uses a combination of physical therapy exercises to improve the bite, breathing, and facial posture of those with orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs). The training targets the face, neck, and mouth's soft tissues to reach optimal tongue position and oral rest posture. OMDs can affect people of all ages, and treatment is customized based on your age and symptoms.

What Are Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders?

An orofacial myofunctional disorder occurs when an abnormal lip, jaw, or tongue position interferes with your orofacial structures' development and function. OMDs can negatively impact breastfeeding, chewing, swallowing, and talking. They also affect your jaw movement, oral hygiene, and the way your face looks. Common causes of OMDs include:

  • Upper airway obstruction. Enlarged tonsils, a deviated septum, or allergies could all restrict the nasal airway. When nasal breathing is obstructed, your body adapts by mouth-breathing, which can change the natural position of your jaw, tongue, and lips long-term.
  • Chronic thumb-sucking or extended pacifier or bottle use. These habits can put pressure on the teeth, moving them out of alignment and causing malocclusion. It can also change the tongue's rest position and swallowing patterns.
  • Orofacial muscular and structural differences. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), these differences could include delayed neuromotor development, premature loss of maxillary incisors that encourages tongue thrusting, orofacial anomalies, and ankyloglossia.

What Are Signs of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders?

Your dental professional can help identify the common symptoms of OMDs. These include:

You or your child could exhibit one or more of these symptoms as part of your OMD. Typically, you will need to treat the cause of your OMD or seek myofunctional therapy for swallowing problems before symptoms like malocclusion or speech deficits are addressed.

How Do Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders Impact Oral Health?

Not only can OMDs contribute to malocclusions like overbite, overjet, and underbite, but they can also lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Abnormal lip, tongue and jaw position can impact regular tongue activity and saliva flow, which play an important role in fighting against bacteria and plaque. Those with OMDs will need to prioritize proper dental care, including brushing twice a day for two minutes, cleaning between teeth daily, and regularly visiting the dentists for oral exams.

How Does Myofunctional Therapy Work?

You can expect your myofunctional therapy to be performed by a health care professional who has completed advanced training in OMDs and their treatment. Sometimes, dental professionals undergo this training to easily recognize OMDs while completing regular oral exams and provide treatment protocols.

Your myofunctional therapist will create an individualized program to retrain your orofacial muscles and improve function. Some goals of your training might include normalizing the resting posture for your tongue and lips, establishing nasal breathing patterns, or eliminating harmful habits like thumb-sucking.

As you retrain these patterns, your myofunctional therapist will help you increase awareness of your mouth and facial muscles. The therapist will most likely give you exercises to complete at home to focus on ideal swallowing, breathing, and resting patterns. Practicing these positions and movements will increase your muscle strength and coordination.

Eventually, myofunctional therapy should improve your OMD symptoms — from speaking more clearly to eating more efficiently and sleeping more soundly. You might also enjoy some cosmetic changes in your face and smile. With a diagnosis from your dental professional and help from a myofunctional therapist, you can treat your orofacial myofunctional disorder, correct your mouth's alignment, and get your smile back on track.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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