Did you know that your tongue’s resting position can impact everything from chewing and swallowing to the way you look and speak?
Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders (OMDs) refer to issues that interfere with the normal growth and development of orofacial structures such as the mouth, teeth, tongue, jaw and face. They may be associated with a range of breathing, swallowing, speech, and even overall health issues.
Fortunately, you can correct an abnormal tongue position with myofunctional therapy.
Known by many names Orofacial Myology, orofacial myofunctional therapy, tongue therapy, tongue thrust therapy and myofunctional therapy.
They’re all the same. If you can envision physical therapy and how they help rehabilitate and train muscles to function like they’re supposed to, then you can apply that idea to myofunctional therapy. It’s very similar to physical therapy to the face, the mouth and the tongue. I teach people exercises to help improve their function in their muscles. Basically, the exercises revolve around the tongue as a majority and evaluate patients for tongue tie and tongue thrust. But I always tell my patients during those evaluations, those are just clues that there’s a bigger underlying issue with your airway. And that’s what we really focus on with that because your airway and your ability to be able to breathe like you are supposed to.
Myofunctional therapy is all about changing habits and strengthening muscles to improve the way that we breathe, the way that we speak, chew and swallow. And it’s possible honestly to have life changing results from a myofunctional therapy program.
This specialized training can improve your oral health and enhance your smile working to help increase muscle function.
The causes of dysfunction are varied and complex and may involve a mix of genetics, habits, skeletal structure, and the environment. Myofunctional therapy is like physical therapy for the muscles in the face and mouth, including the tongue.
Myofunctional therapy is based on a series of exercises that help patients learn to change bad habits, that improves tongue placement, breathing, speaking, chewing, swallowing, which can all have a huge impact on their overall health.
Every day we rely on these muscles to work together seamlessly as we speak, eat, drink, or swallow. For example, swallowing correctly requires coordination of the face, mouth, and throat muscles. We swallow 800 -2000 times a day, usually without thinking about it. What happens if the muscles involved just don’t work together as they should?
Myofunctional therapists aim to correct the habits that hinder healthy development and function. Each treatment plan is customized to the specific individual to create transformation through sustainable habits.
Why Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders Require Treatment
Seeking treatment early prevents and reduces a range of long-term problems. In the case of growing children, it is even more important to seek appropriate correction to prevent a lifetime of potentially preventable health concerns.
According to the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy, most of these disorders originated from early feeding and habitual mouth breathing, especially while sleeping, and insufficient nasal breathing.
There are a variety of different causes including:
- Habitual thumb or finger sucking
- Low tongue posture
- Thrusting the tongue
- Sleeping or resting with the mouth open
- Resting the tongue between or forward against the teeth
- Allergies and sinus infections
- Functional airway obstructions include a deviated septum, enlarged tonsils, enlarged adenoids, etc.
- Other habits like sucking or chewing when one isn’t eating or drinking
Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders may contribute to other oral and general health concerns, including:
- Misalignment of teeth
- Abnormal jaw growth
- Gum disease
- Tooth grinding
- Dry mouth
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble sleeping
- Gut issues
The goals are to correct conscious and unconscious habits such as:
- Incorrect tongue positioning
- Forward head position
- Open lips
Through myofunctional therapy, patients improve their ability to breathe, eat, drink, speak and sleep. Effective treatment also may improve appearance depending on the nature of the disorder. Successful therapy also often has added benefits of improving self-esteem and confidence.
Myofunctional Therapy has Four Goals
- Breathe Through your nose
- Lips together
- Correct Tongue Placement on the Roof of Your Mouth
- Correct Swallow
The first thing you need to survive is to breathe.
Our job number one is to help you breathe through your nose.You need oxygen to survive, right? So it is no joke, it is real and here’s the deal. If you can’t breathe through your nose, you’re going to breathe through your mouth. Guess what, if you can’t breathe you will die just in case you’re wondering. So in my opinion this is where we should start when we are talking about health.
So you have to be able to breathe and for some people they’ve just been breathing to survive, and I want you to breathe to thrive.
We know that when we breathe through your nose your body absorbs anywhere from 18 to 20% more oxygen into the bloodstream. More oxygen is better, again in my opinion if you are a mouth breather you are not that healthy.
You will see that we teach our patients how to breathe. I want to talk through each step of what that really means to you, what that really means to us and what we are trying to do for our patients. Breathe is one of our first goals of myofunctional therapy and that’s being able to breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing is crucial to your ability to be able to filter out any of the gunk that comes in.
When we breathe through our nose nitric oxide comes into play, everything gets moistened, and the oxygen that gets absorbed into our system which is crucial for brain health or physical health or sleep health. You have to breathe through your nose in order to really be your healthiest self.
Our job as therapists is to help you figure out how to do that whether it’s because your nose is stuffed or you have chronic infections, you have airway obstructions, or maybe it’s just not a habit. And that’s okay too, we need to start somewhere.
Resting your tongue comfortably up, the tip of the tongue gets a lot of attention. People talk about it the most. It’s not just about the tip. It’s the whole tongue being fully up into the mouth. The tongue on the roof known as the palate acts like a natural retainer, your upper jaw being a support system for the face and jaw joint. We also know there are some cranial nerves and vagus nerve stimulation that happen when we swallow correctly. Tongues up. So having that tongue fully up in the roof of your mouth is crucial for so many reasons. When your tongue is up you can’t breathe through your mouth.
Next, we want you to be able to eat. Eat, drink, chew and swallow correctly. So, you know the first three goals that we talk about… breathing to the nose, lips sealed together, tongue fully up in the roof of the mouth.
What about actively when we’re eating, drinking, chewing, swallowing, speaking we need to do those things correctly to want to aid in your digestion. We want to take pressure off of these other muscles that can cause pain. That can cause your teeth to move if we have a tongue thrust, low tongue posture it can move your teeth. I have seen patients being in braces 2, 3, 4, 5 times. That’s the record five times because we’re not correcting the tongue function and swallowing correctly.
Always keep your lips sealed. So, that lip seal that I already kind of alluded to. Get the lips close together, sealed, without puckering without grimacing anywhere without pulling from the chin, neck or shoulders just rested nicely together.
Transforming healthy and sustainable habits. How many times have you tried to do something? Try a new habit. Try to make a change. Try to have this new goal and maybe don’t follow through or you were really intense about it for a short period of time. But we actually didn’t see long term habits transform. You didn’t see that change that you wanted..
I know. I’m guilty of that. Trying to go to bed at a bedtime or getting up early or drinking enough water, working out, certain diets. It is easy to fail if we don’t set up the right intentions, if we don’t set up the right support and the right accountability.
With myofunctional therapy we are your team or your teammate or your coach or your cheerleader, we wear many hats that you can possibly think of. Our job is to actually help you transform your health and your symptoms into lifelong sustainable habits and changes.
So it doesn’t just stick with you during our treatment time but these habits stick with you when we are done with treatment. Lifelong sustainable habits!
H…Healing the root cause of your symptoms. So, I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me and they’ve tried everything under the sun. They’ve had this person telling one thing and this person saying another, they have to pay this amount of money to this person who gave me this night guard and this person gave me this sleep breathing machine.
And those all can be really helpful tools but they might not be the root cause of why we’re having dysfunction in the first place. When you look at things structurally, look at things functionally, look at your habits and your behaviors and then we need to figure out what you’re doing really well.
But then also where we can come in and collaborate and really help you grow and change and actually get to the root cause of why this dysfunction is there in the first place, why you’re having symptoms and not just giving you a bandaid.
Myofunctional therapy can be the root cause solution to all the bandaid treatments that you’ve been given over the years. Treating the symptoms may not be working for you anymore. We have got to get to the WHY?
Evolve your habits to create optimal health. That’s really the root of what we do. Our job is to help you create long term habits and make these changes reach those four goals.
Breathing through the nose, lips together, tongue up chewing swallowing, that is the real function and optimal health. For whatever reason along the way, our bodies got off track, our habits got off track, we’ve snowballed.
We’ve had bigger symptoms or compensation start happening. And we don’t always know the root cause of the issues and so finding people who are getting into the root cause actually figuring out the whys and not just this is just what we do. It can actually help you evolve your habits and help create that optimal health that we’re looking for.
When your body works the way that it’s designed to, it wants to keep working. It doesn’t want to struggle. It doesn’t want to just get by everyday because it has to. It wants to be able to thrive, it wants to be able to be in normal, optimal function in order to really help you be the best version of yourself. And so we don’t just teach people exercises.
We don’t just go through, go through the motions. We really partner and our job is to help you BREATHE and really help you transform through sustainable habits. We are your teammates and your partners. We are with you every step of the way of the journey and so hopefully that made you feel a little inspired, supported. We are here to support you.
Myofunctional therapy exercises help strengthen the tongue and other facial muscles. Therapists often prescribe or recommend them as part of the treatment for mouth breathing, sleep apnea, and a range of other health problems.
Keep in mind that nothing shared here is a substitute for individualized medical or dental care. Like all medical care, myofunctional therapy exercises are customized to suit the patient’s needs and health history. Always discuss any concerns or symptoms with your dentist or doctor since collaboration is key to receiving appropriate care.
Symptoms of mouth breathing can lead to a range of oral health concerns like dry mouth and an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Breathing through the mouth is healthy during a vigorous workout or while recovering from a cold, but it isn’t beneficial long term. The nose is for breathing the mouth is for eating, talking, and emergency breathing short term only.
Chronic or habitual mouth breathing is associated with the following issues:
- Bruxism or grinding the teeth
- Hindered facial skeletal growth in children
- Thumb sucking
- Dry mouth which contributes to tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease
- It may be a symptom of nasal obstruction
- Shoulder and neck misalignment
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Speech problems or difficulty learning to talk
- Changes in facial appearance
- Snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders
Since chronic mouth breathing is often a sign of nasal obstruction, treatment identifies the root cause and resolves it. Sometimes muscle weakness and imbalance are part of the problem, so therapists prescribe exercises to help restore strength and function.
Myofunctional therapy goal is to help patients regain eating, speaking, breathing, and even sleeping more soundly. The approach is interdisciplinary, so in addition to myofunctional therapists, treatment often involves dentists, orthodontists, physicians and other providers like chiropractors OT, PT, and osteopaths.
Myofunctional Therapy Exercises
The following list of exercises gives you an idea of what kind of exercises may be part of a myofunctional program. A therapist would demonstrate each in person, and provide a written description for learning these techniques.
A therapist would recommend specific numbers of repetitions and sets for each exercise depending on what muscles are affected. For example, you may be instructed to complete each exercise 3 times and complete the exercises set at least two times a day.
Kids enjoy these exercises, adults tell kids not to stick out their tongues! But during myofunctional therapy sticking out the tongue isn’t rude, it is exercise! Both children and adults can benefit from myofunctional therapy exercises.
Tongue clicking: Use your tongue to make a clicking sound against the roof of the mouth. Click repeatedly for 30 seconds, twice a day.
Vowel Practice: Practice saying each vowel out loud. Say a, e, i, o, u. Practice this sequence for three minutes at a time, two times a day.
Nose touch: Stick your tongue out of your mouth, then try to touch the tip of your nose with it. Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat five times.
Chin touch: Stick your tongue out, then try to use it to touch the bottom of your chin. Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat five times.
Side to side tongue hold: Stick your tongue out and move it as far as you can reach to the left. Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat the sequence reaching towards the right. Do this five times each side.
These are just a few examples of simple yet effective exercises.
While the exercises might seem simple, a therapist tailors a program to the individual’s needs and development. So a child with difficulty keeping lips closed may perform a different sequence than an adult with sleep apnea. That sequence may also be different from exercises prescribed to a child who is a habitual mouth breather.
If you suspect that you or your child habitually breathes through the mouth, you should discuss the issue with your doctor and, ideally, your dentist as well. If your dentist does not know much about this contact a myofunctional therapist.
Sometimes people underestimate the importance of seeking care for this condition. In children, it can lead to developmental problems. In adults, mild habitual mouth breathing may still contribute to oral health issues, but more extreme cases might cause sleep apnea and other serious health issues.
Keep your dentist and doctor informed of these and any other health concerns. Breathing through the mouth can impact oral health as well as overall health concerns.
These disorders can affect posture, gut health, sleep, behavior and mood.
Depending on the exact issue, your doctor or dentist may refer you to another specialist such as an orthodontist, physical therapist, sleep specialist, or myofunctional therapist for myofunctional therapy exercises.
Click the link below to learn more about how we really want to be able to help you.
If you resonated with this if you liked it, please comment, share, subscribe, find us on social media and get in touch with us.
Myofunctional therapy can help people breathe better all over the world. A healthy mouth is a healthy body and a happy healthy life.
IN two weeks we will talk about things you should know before starting myofunctional therapy