What is Myofunctional Therapy?
Myofunctional Therapy is the “neuromuscular re-education or re-patterning of the orofacial muscles.” This therapy includes facial and tongue exercises and behavior modification techniques to promote proper tongue position, improved breathing, chewing, and swallowing. Treatment usually consists of a regular program of exercises over a 4-12 month period, although length of treatment may vary.
What are Orofacial Myofuctional Disorders?
Orofaical Myofunctional disorders (OMDs) are incorrect muscle use and functions of the face and mouth. OMDs may affect (directly and/or indirectly) breastfeeding, facial skeletal growth and development, chewing, swallowing, speech, occlusion, temporomandibular joint movement, oral hygiene, stability of orthodontic treatment, facial aesthetics and more.
Breathing through the mouth can cause some orofacial muscles to be underused and other to over-compensate, hindering treatments by orthodontists, dentists, dental hygienists, speech and language therapists and other professionals working in the orofacial area.
How does correct swallowing depends on a proper relationship between muscles of the face, tongue and throat?
The act of swallowing is one function that depends on proper patterning. To swallow properly, muscles and nerves in the tongue, cheeks and throat must work together in harmony. When a person swallows normally, the tip of the tongue presses firmly against the roof of the mouth or hard palate, located slightly behind the front teeth.
The tongue acts as a fulcrum or starting point that allows other muscles involved in swallowing to function normally. The hard palate, meanwhile, absorbs the force created by the tongue. Because a person swallows 500 to 1000 times a day, it’s easy to see how improper swallowing can cause a variety of problems. However, it is the rest position of the tongue that may influence proper functioning patterns most of all.
Can serious dental problems result from the improper function of muscles used in swallowing?
Yes, absolutely! When a person swallows incorrectly, the tip and/or sides of the tongue press against or spread between the teeth. This is commonly called a tongue thrust. Constant pressure from resting or incorrectly thrusting the tongue away from the hard palate may push teeth out of place. That pressure may later prevent teeth from erupting (breaking through the gum).
Oral Myofunctional Disorders may also lead to an abnormal bite – the improper alignment between the upper and lower teeth known as a malocclusion. The problem may lead to difficulties in biting, chewing, swallowing and digesting food.
How can incorrect swallowing or oral posture possibly lead to cosmetic problems?
Often the most obvious symptoms of incorrect oral posture involves the muscles of the face. A dull, sluggish appearance and full, weak lips develop when muscles aren’t operating normally. Constantly parted lips (with or without mouth breathing) also signal this disorder.
A person swallowing incorrectly will often purse and tighten the muscles of the cheeks, chin and lips – a symptom known as a facial grimace. This can give the chin a knobbly appearance, known as a chin button.
How can Myofunctional Disorders lead to speech and other problems?
A person with abnormal oral muscle patterns may suffer a lisp or have difficulty articulating sounds. If muscles in the tongue and lips are incorrectly postured, it can prevent a person from forming sounds of normal speech.
Improper oral muscle function may additionally lead to TMJ dysfunction, headaches, stomach distress (from swallowing air), posture problems, airway obstruction and other health challenges.
What factors can cause improper oral muscle patterns?
Occasionally, other problems with in the body can lead to swallowing difficulties. A respiratory disorder or airway obstruction, such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids, can be the cause. So can various physical abnormalities and allergies. Sometimes, inherited oral patterns create problems. A tight frenum, the string that holds the tongue to the floor of the mouth, may restrict proper function.
Habitual sucking of the thumb or fingers may also cause a swallowing problem. Thumb sucking can push the tongue into an unnatural position when swallowing or resting, which can damage the teeth and dental arch. Correct positioning of the tongue and lips can also be difficult when this occurs, leading to an improper functioning pattern.
How does Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy eliminate the cause of many swallowing abnormalities?
Habits are hard to break – certainly, an unconscious function repeated 500-1000 times per day for several years is no exception. However, many children, teenagers and even adults have retrained and corrected poor swallowing habits with orofacial therapy’s help.
Orofacial therapy is painless and the exercises are relatively simple. When certain muscles are activated and functioning properly, other muscles will follow suit until proper coordination of the tongue and facial muscles are gained.
For success in this therapy, consistent exercise every day is necessary until the patient has subconsciously corrected their improper muscle pattern. It also takes a constant commitment from the patient, parental support – and time.
Treatment usually consists of a regular program of exercises over a 4-12 month period, although the length of treatment may vary.
Can you carry out Myofunctional Therapy alongside Orthodontic treatment?
Absolutely. If incorrect muscle patterning or swallowing has created a malocclusion (incorrect bite), learning proper techniques may prevent further damage. Careful diagnosis and special orthodontic appliances or braces will be needed to reposition dental problems that have already occurred.
Can Myofunctional Therapy benefit snorers?
Snoring may be partial obstruction of the upper airways causing noise and vibration produced by some muscles of the mouth and throat during sleep.
A person who snores or has sleep apnoea can really benefit from a multidisciplinary team that includes a sleep specialist and a Myofunctional Therapist. A Myofunctional Therapist can help to guide exercises to strengthen the muscles associated with the airway.
Who can specialise in this field?
Myofunctional Therapy is NOT a dental treatment, healthcare professionals trained in the dental and speech fields have extensive knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the head and neck, making them ideal professionals to specialise in the field of Myofunctional Therapy.
At Myofunctional Therapy UK we work with a combination of therapies and treatments that include:
Myofunctional Therapy (MFT)
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) release therapy
Buteyko Breathing re-education
TMJ, head and neck acupuncture