Myofunctional therapy is a program used to correct the proper function of the tongue and facial muscles used at rest and for swallowing. Correct swallowing depends on a proper relationship between muscles of the face, tongue, and throat.
The act of swallowing depends on proper neuromuscular patterning. To swallow properly, muscles and nerves in the tongue, cheeks and throat must work together. When a person swallows normally, the tip of the tongue presses firmly against the roof of the mouth, located slightly behind the front teeth. The tongue acts as a starting point, that allows other muscles involved in swallowing to function normally. The roof of the mouth absorbs the force created by the tongue. Dental problems may result from the improper function of muscles used in swallowing.
According to the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy,
“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 roof of the mouth can push teeth out of place. The pressure may later prevent teeth from erupting (breaking through the gum). An orofacial myofunctional disorder may lead to an abnormal bite, the improper alignment between the upper and lower teeth. This problem may lead to difficulties in biting, chewing, swallowing and digesting food.”
The Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy has a great deal of information on their website about the how this therapy can help infants and children regarding breast feeding, mouth breathing and tongue and lip ties (lingual frenulum). Visit them at www.https://aomtinfo.org/faq for more information.
Incorrect swallowing or oral posture may lead to cosmetic problems. The most obvious symptom show in the 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, or lips.
A person with abnormal oral muscle patterns may suffer a lisp or have difficulty articulating sounds. Improper oral muscle function may additionally lead to TMJ dysfunction, headaches, stomach distress caused the swallowing of air, posture problems, and airway obstruction.
Respiratory disorders or airway obstructions, caused by enlarged adenoids or tonsil, physical abnormalities and allergies, can lead to a swallowing difficulty. (Genetics may create problems as well.) A tight frenum, a string of tissue that holds the tongue to the floor of the mouth, may restrict proper function. This is commonly called a tongue tie. The upper lip may also be tied by the labial frenum’s attachment – a lip tie - to the gums.
Orofacial myofunctional 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 tongue and facial muscles occurs. Daily exercises are necessary until the patient subconsciously corrects their improper muscle pattern. Treatment usually consists of a regular program of exercises during a four to twelve month period, although the length of treatment varies depending upon your child’s unique case. It takes commitment by the patient and parents, as well as time – CONSISTENCY is KEY!