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Myofunctional therapy exercises help strengthen the tongue and other facial muscles. Therapists often prescribe or recommend them as part of the treatment for mouth breathing, sleep apnea, and a range of other health problems.
Keep in mind that nothing in this article is a substitute for individualized medical or dental care. Like all medical care, myofunctional therapy exercises are customized to suit the patient’s needs and history. Always discuss any concerns or symptoms with your dentist or doctor since that is the first step to receiving appropriate care.
Dentists often notice symptoms of mouth breathing since it can lead to a range of oral health concerns like dry mouth and an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Breathing through the mouth is healthy during a vigorous workout or while recovering from a cold, but it isn’t beneficial long term. The mouth is for eating, talking, and emergency breathing.
Chronic or habitual mouth breathing is associated with the following issues:
- Bruxism or grinding the teeth
- Hindered facial skeletal growth in children
- Thumb sucking
- Dry mouth which contributes to tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease
- It may be a symptom of nasal obstruction
- Shoulder and neck misalignment
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Speech problems or difficulty learning to talk
- Changes in facial appearance
- Snoring, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders
Since chronic mouth breathing is often a sign of nasal obstruction, treatment identifies the root cause and resolves it. Sometimes muscle weakness and imbalance are part of the problem, so therapists prescribe exercises to help restore strength and function.
The Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy describes its goal as helping patients “regain the joy of eating, speaking, breathing, and even sleeping more soundly.” The approach is interdisciplinary, so in addition to myofunctional therapists, treatment often involves dentists, orthodontists, and other physicians like osteopaths.
Top Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Exercises
The following list of exercises gives you an idea of what kind of exercises may be part of a myofunctional program. A therapist would demonstrate each in person, and a written description is inadequate for learning these techniques.
A therapist would recommend specific numbers of repetitions and sets for each exercise. For example, you may be instructed to complete each exercise 10 times and complete the exercises set at least four times a day.
Kids often enjoy these exercises; after all, how often do adults tell kids not to stick out their tongues! Well, during myofunctional therapy sticking out the tongue isn’t rude, it is exercise! Both children and adults may benefit from myofunctional therapy exercises.
Tongue push-up: Position the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth behind the top teeth. Push upward and then hold for five seconds. Repeat ten times.
Vowel Practice: Practice saying each vowel out loud. Say a, e, i, o, u. Practice this sequence for three minutes at a time, a few times a day.
Tongue clicking: Use your tongue to name a clicking sound against the roof of the mouth. Click repeatedly for 15 seconds, repeat the sequence ten times.
Nose touch: Stick your tongue out of your mouth, then try to touch the tip of your nose with it. Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times.
Chin touch: Stick your tongue out, then try to use it to touch the bottom of your chin. Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times.
Side to side tongue hold: Stick your tongue out and move it as far as you can reach to the left. Hold for ten seconds, then rest. Repeat ten times before repeating the sequence reaching towards the right.
Tongue roll: Roll your tongue lengthwise, so it resembles a taco shell. Stick it out while maintaining the “roll.” Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times.
Sing: We promise this exercise is fun. Sing along with a song you like. Singing uses muscles in the face, throat, and soft palate. Regularly singing can help reduce snoring.
Spoon push: Hold a spoon in front of your lips. Push the tip of your tongue against the spoon and hold for ten seconds. Rest then repeat ten times.
These are just a few examples of simple yet effective exercises. Very Well published a guide to exercising including similar exercises to those described as well as others.
While the exercises might seem simple, a therapist tailors a program to the individual’s needs and development. So a child with difficulty learning to speak may perform a different sequence than an adult with obstructive sleep apnea. That sequence may also be different from exercises prescribed to a child who is a habitual mouth breather.
Next Steps: See Your Dentist or Physician
If you suspect that you or your child habitually breathes through the mouth, you should discuss the issue with your doctor and, ideally, your dentist as well.
Sometimes people underestimate the importance of seeking care for this condition. In children, it can lead to developmental problems. In adults, mild habitual mouth breathing may still contribute to oral health issues, but more extreme cases might cause sleep apnea and other serious health issues.
Keep your dentist informed of these and any other health concerns. Breathing through the mouth can impact oral health, so even if your physician is satisfied, your dentist may notice signs of dry mouth or other dental health concerns.
Depending on the exact issue, your doctor or dentist may refer you to another specialist such as an orthodontist, physical therapist, sleep specialist, or myofunctional therapist for myofunctional therapy exercises.
Southview Dentistry’s own Dr. Kelly Wilson is a trained myofunctional therapist who can help you or your child learn techniques to breathe properly through the nose.
If you live in the Charlotte area and need a dentist to consult, reach out to Southview Dentistry. We have proudly helped patients achieve and maintain healthy smiles since 2009.
We love helping our patients live healthy lives, so we strive to keep up with evidence-based treatment options and best practices in dentistry. Contact us to schedule your appointments.