OMDs are disorders of the muscles 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 esthetics, and more.
Some signs of an OMD may include the following:
- Someone who always breathes through the mouth or has difficulty breathing through the nose.
- Limited tongue movement.
- Eating may be messy or difficult. Keep in mind that it is normal for babies to stick their tongue out and push food out of their mouth. Over time, they do this less.
- An overbite, underbite, and/or other dental problems.
- The tongue pushes past the teeth, even when a person is not talking or using the tongue.
- Difficulty saying some sounds, like “s” in “sun,” “sh” in “ship,” or “j” in “jump.”
- Drooling, especially beyond age 2.
- Difficulty closing the lips to swallow.
- Sleep disturbances and history of sleep apnea
- High, narrow palatal arch
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 is Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy?
Myofunctional therapy uses a combination of 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.
How do you test for OMDs?
You may see a few professionals to find out if your child has an OMD. These professionals may include
- a dentist;
- an orthodontist;
- a doctor; and/or
- an SLP.
Your dentist and orthodontist will look at your child’s teeth and how their jaw moves. Doctors can test for allergies and check your child’s tonsils and adenoids for airway occlusions. SLPs test your child’s speech and look at how they eat, drink, produce speech sounds, and breathe.
What if my child needs therapy?
You can expect your myofunctional therapy to be performed by a healthcare professional who has completed advanced training in OMDs and their treatment.
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.
For success in this therapy, consistent exercise every day is necessary until the patient has corrected their improper muscle pattern. It also takes commitment by the patient, family – and time. Treatment usually consists of a regular program of exercises over a 6 – 12 month period, although treatment length may vary.
Parents can help by encouraging proper posture (body upright and head aligned with shoulders), encouraging nasal breathing, and managing allergies and medications. Parents can also help their children participate in the provided exercises at home. Additionally, parents may find it helpful to encourage their children to wean off of sippy cups, pacifiers, and thumb sucking habits.