You use your mouth and face muscles 24 hours a day, consciously and unconsciously. How you use them can affect how you look, the shape and function of your dental bite, your TMJ (jaw joint) function, head/neck/body posture and more.
Myofunctional disorders involve behaviors and patterns created by inappropriate muscle function and habits involving the tongue, lips and jaws. They may be caused by any number of things:
- Oral habits such as thumb/finger-sucking and/or lip/cheek/tongue/nail biting/sucking.
- A restricted nasal airway.
- A restricted posterior airway causing sleep apnea symptoms.
- Structural abnormalities.
- Neurological or developmental abnormalities.
- Nursing difficulties from tongue-tie or lip-tie.
- Genetic disposition.
Whatever the cause, a myofunctional disorder can have a big impact on your health and well being. An incorrect tongue resting posture and swallowing pattern – popularly known as a “tongue thrust” – can contribute to things such as misaligned teeth and jaws, clenching/grinding habits and TMJ disorders (TMD). Restoring a normal rest posture of the tongue and lips can
- Guide the teeth into a more desirable relationship during the growth years.
- Help an orthodontist align the teeth and jaws properly.
- Help stabilize the bite during or after orthodontic, dental or surgical treatment.
- Enhance overall appearance.
The process of correcting tongue thrust or similar problems is called myofunctional therapy. You may also hear it called “tongue thrust therapy,” “oral-facial rest posture therapy,” “oral-facial myology” or any of a number of other variations. All these terms refer to the same thing.
The Therapy Process
Most of the time, a full course of therapy lasts about a year. It starts with weekly sessions for the first 3 to 6 months and twice daily exercises at home. This is followed by monthly visits for the rest of the year to make sure the new habits are really ingrained. The main goal is to recapture a normal freeway space dimension – the space between upper and lower teeth when the jaw is at rest. This is the foundation for correct oral-facial postures and muscle patterns.
Myofunctional therapists are trained to use positive behavior management techniques to help patients replace negative habits with proper functions. The exercises taught by the therapist are designed to establish correct functional activities of the tongue, lips and jaws. Therapy can improve the clarity of your speech, enhance your appearance and help maintain good oral health for a lifetime.
Some Signs of Correct Orofacial Function
- Lips are closed when at rest
- Lips are well-toned
- Nasal breathing
- Palatal & posterior swallowing pattern (roof of the mouth to back)
- Tongue touching the palate when at rest
- Improved head, neck & body posture
- No detrimental habits (e.g., nail-biting, thumb-sucking, lip or cheek-chewing)
Myofunctional therapy is suitable for all ages from 4 years on up, but early treatment – around the ages of 7 and 8 – is ideal. Oral habits are less ingrained at this stage (and so are easier to change). Any abnormal muscle function may be corrected early, encouraging normal dental growth. But patients of all ages can benefit. Motivation and commitment are the keys to success.