What a Myofunctional Therapist Looks At
Once you see the difference between normal function and dysfunction, you realize how we’re surrounded by it every day. You can see it in family members, friends and coworkers; in popular media and on the street; even, perhaps, in yourself. Why so prevalent? Unfortunately, it’s seldom diagnosed. Instead, vast sums of money are spent on treating the problems it can cause – TMJ pain and dysfunction, sleep apnea, headaches, speech and sinus issues…just to name a few. Fortunately, corrective therapy doesn’t take long, is widely affordable and – most importantly – has a dramatic effect on the rest of your life.
What “Normal” Looks Like, What Dysfunctional Looks Like
In a normal face, chin, nose and lips are aligned. There are nice facial contours. The eyes are bright and the nose is open for adequate air. Head, neck and body are properly aligned. Of course genetics play a big role in facial appearance, but so do myofunctional disorders. The lips-apart posture causes the chin to drop down and back. The mouth becomes like a weight dragging down the face and pushing the muscles inward. The eyes take on a droopy, sleepy appearance, and often show more white in the lower part. The nose becomes smaller and the nasal/sinus area is flattened in what’s called “long face syndrome.” Problems with congestion or allergies are common. The upper lip shortens, and the lower lip becomes fuller. The palate narrows or becomes vaulted, which over time can cause bite deformities. The resting posture of the tongue can make a big difference, too. After all, though swallowing has more force, the resting tongue exerts continuous pressure over long periods of time every day. So whenever we’re not talking, laughing, eating, drinking, yawning or coughing, the tip of the tongue should rest 1/4″ behind the upper front teeth. The rest of the tongue should lie against the palate, with both sides contained within the teeth. In an incorrect posture, on the other hand, the tip of the tongue rests against the teeth – upper or lower – or between them, while the rest of the tongue drops down. Often, the sides flare between the teeth. See in this second drawing how the palate is higher and narrower, while the nasal airway is smaller and compromised? Correct swallow depends on correct tongue posture. The tongue pulls back, making contact with the throat. The uvula and soft palate pull up and back, and the chin and lips are relaxed. There’s no backward pull in an incorrect swallow, though, which allows air to be swallowed. The tongue tries to go back, but its middle begins to lose contact with the palate. The tip moves against the teeth, and the sides flare out, touching the insides of the cheeks – sometimes on just one side, sometimes flaring against or between the teeth. The chin and lip muscles tighten to gather saliva instead of muscles in the back of the mouth and face. Let’s look at some images of these issues from real life…
Myofunctional Factors & What They Look Like
A sucking habit trains the tongue to work down and forward, creating a “tongue thrust” pattern, narrowing the dental arch and affecting nasal air space.
Resting Tongue Posture
Except when swallowing, talking, eating, drinking, yawning, laughing or at the dentist, the tongue is always at rest.
The Swallow & Dental Bite
Frenula are small folds of tissue that connect various organs in the body. There are three in the mouth: the lingual frenulum (under the tongue) and one inside each lip. When the lip frenula are restricted, the lips don’t flare properly, which prevents a good seal during breastfeeding.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Dysfunction (TMD)
Each of us has two TM joints – one on each side of our head. They form the hinge that lets you open and close your mouth.
Tongue, Cheek & Lip Markings
Though jaw dysfunction has many causes, poor oral-facial musculature and habits are often involved.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious concern in children and adults alike. If symptoms are seen during myofunctional evaluation, the patient is advised to consult with a physician or appropriate sleep disorder clinician. But while myo doesn’t treat this disorder, it has been proven to help with mild to moderate cases. Early treatment of dysfunctional muscle patterns and poor habits can also help prevent it.
Poor Eating & Drinking Patterns, Poor Habits
Tongue thrust is a big contributor to problems with the action of eating and drinking, as well as some digestive complaints, as it leads to a tendency to swallow a lot of air while eating. Often, the person experiences more than the usual amount of gas, burping, hiccups and stomach aches. Frequently, I hear reports of “daily” stomach aches that subside once therapy has begun. Often, tongue thrust and other dysfunctional patterns are also accompanied by any number of poor habits. Over time, these can cause damage and change the face in undesirable ways…