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 is a function that depends on proper 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. Serious dental problems may result from the improper function of muscles used in swallowing.
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 may push teeth out of place. The pressure may later prevent teeth from erupting. Oral Myofunctional disorder may also 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.
Incorrect swallowing or oral posture may lead to cosmetic problems. Often the most obvious symptom 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 or lips.
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, that can prevent a person from forming sounds. Improper oral muscle function may additionally lead to TMJ dysfunction, headaches, stomach distress (from the swallowing of air), posture problems, airway obstruction and other health challenges.
Occasionally, other problems within the body can lead to a swallowing difficulty. A respiratory disorder or airway obstruction, such as enlarged adenoids or tonsils, can be a 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.
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 tongue and facial muscles is 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 constant commitment by the patient, parental support, and time. Treatment usually consists of a regular program of exercises over a 4 to 12 month period, although the length of treatment may vary.