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Patients often ask us – what is a myofunctional therapist? We hope this article brings you up to speed on what is a myofunctional therapist, what it does and what kind of patients may benefit from this therapeutic treatment.
Please keep in mind that this article about what is a myofunctional therapist is not intended to substitute professional medical or dental care. It is simply part of our series to keep our patients well informed to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Let’s first understand what is a myofunctional therapist.
What Is a Myofunctional Therapist?
A Myofunctional therapist is like a physical therapist for the face and mouth. They teach people exercises for the mouth, tongue, lips, face. The goal of a myofunctional therapist is to restore proper function to the mouth. This involves correcting low tongue posture, tongue thrust swallowing pattern, mouth breathing, and open mouth posture. These professionals help people who struggle with proper tongue posture, breathing through the mouth, snoring, and sleep apnea. Although these issues are common they are not normal. If a patient currently has any of these symptoms or had these symptoms in the past, this means they need therapy!
Mouth breathing, snoring, and sleep apnea can affect your overall health and this form of treatment is often overlooked. Children who exhibit symptoms of oral dysfunction such as open mouth posture often develop dental misalignments that get worse with age.
This open mouth posture can lead to:
- Narrow palate
- Gummy smile
- Long face
- Flatter facial features
- Small lower jaw or “no chin”
- Vertical angle to mandibular plane
- Droopy eyes
- Low facial muscle tone
- Short upper lip
- Deviated septum or crooked nose
- Bump on the bridge of the nose
- Dark circles under eyes
Adults with myofunctional disorders also suffer oral and physical health issues, and sometimes the dental side effects or worn or misaligned teeth impact their physical appearance and confidence.
For example, people who suffer from tongue-tie may exhibit low tongue posture or tongue thrust. These patients will need myofunctional therapy to help gain proper tongue posture. If with therapy, the tongue-tied patient can still not reach a proper resting position then a release will need to be performed by a trained surgeon. The myofunctional therapist will work with the patient before and after the tongue-tie release procedure. It is important that therapy be continued after surgery to prevent reattachment of the tongue.
In Infants, difficulty nursing or latching, pain for the mother, colic, gas pains, and reflux are all signs of a possible tongue tie. The sooner the tongue tie is treated the quicker these troubles will resolve. Myofunctional therapists are an excellent resource for mothers that are concerned about their new baby not being able to nurse. While in some instances the tongue tie is minor and not affecting function, if the tongue tie is leading to dysfunction then it will need to be released.
Many people who have had or need braces may have oral dysfunction that needs to be addressed for their orthodontic treatment to be successful. For example, a patient with spaces between their front teeth may have a tongue thrust habit. Anterior open bite, crossbite, deep bite, overjet, class III, can all be signs of low tongue posture. These postures and habits must be corrected before or during orthodontic treatment. Without myofunctional therapy, orthodontics will take longer, spaces and open bite will be difficult to close, and the result will not be stable and relapse will be likely.
Patients of any age may benefit from seeking treatment from a myofunctional therapist. Talk with your dentist or your child’s dentist if you observe any of these issues that may need treatment. By now you should be aware of what is a myofunctional therapist.
What does Myofunctional Therapy look like?
As mentioned, myofunctional therapy can be described as physical therapy for the lips and tongue. Some interventions used by the therapists include special exercises to help train and balance the airways and oral systems.
Your therapists may walk you or your child through the exercises and offer other appropriate treatments and strategies. Most patients need around 10 to 12 sessions with a therapist. However, this varies with the individual and their specific needs.
The main goals of myofunctional therapy include:
- Training the lips to close (known as lip seal).
- Improving and correcting tongue posture as well as the tongues interaction with the roof of the mouth.
- Promote nasal breathing.
- Correct tongue thrust swallow pattern
Since most of the myofunctional disorders hinder nasal breathing, it is important to understand the role of the nose. Many people take “nose breathing” for granted. The nose filters air and warms and moisturizes it as it enters the body. This process allows the body to get oxygen more efficiently. When the body can’t get enough oxygen through the nose, it recruits the mouth.
During periods of exertion or illness, this is a great plan B, but chronic mouth breathing is associated with oral health issues like dry mouth, gum disease, and more. Also, the patient’s reliance on breathing through the mouth indicates a deeper problem that needs to be addressed.
Some myofunctional disorders also cause changes and shifts in the alignment of the teeth, jaw, or mouth. These misalignments might impact healthy function, chewing, eating, breathing, or physical appearance. They may also cause pain and headaches.
Myofunctional therapy can offer relief and help restore wellness and normal development. While we touched on a few myofunctional disorders, the next section will expand on the range of disorders and their causes.
Myofunctional disorders cover a wide range of issues, including positioning of the lips, tongue, or jaw during rest, speech, or swallowing.
It is also associated with habits like thumb sucking. Sometimes unintentional habits play a role in the disorders, including routinely resting with the lips apart, tongue thrust, habitually resting the tongue between or against the teeth.
The International Association of Orofacial Myology provided a list of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders including:
- Periodontal disorders
- Improper alignment of the teeth (known as Malocclusion)
- Orthodontic relapse
- Various changes due to abnormal jaw position and growth
Causes vary, including genetics, development, and habits. Some potential causes include:
- Genetics and hereditary predisposition
- Developmental delays
- Extended use of pacifiers or sippy cups
- Blocked or restricted airways from enlarged tonsils, adenoids, allergies, or a deviated septum
- Harmful oral habits like teeth clenching, grinding the teeth, thumb sucking, nail-biting
- Structural abnormalities
While some of the symptoms and habits seem harmless, they can also lead to severe problems. One consequence is breathing through the mouth. It is natural to breathe through the mouth during exertion to ensure the body gets the oxygen it needs. But when nasal breathing is routinely hindered during rest, the body accommodates with mouth breathing, which tends to alter the natural position of the tongue, jaw, and lips during rest. Mouth breathing is associated with oral health and overall health concerns. Fortunately, a skilled myofunctional therapist can help.
Next Steps: Visit a Dental Health Professional
All aspects of oral and dental health require care from a dentist. During your examinations, your dentist should notice changes in your oral health, including some of the signs of myofunctional disorders. Be sure to discuss any concerns or symptoms you noticed even if they don’t seem directly related to oral health. For example, snoring and or sleep apnea is a symptom of myofunctional disorders that many patients do not share with their dentist.
Parents are often the first to notice signs of myofunctional disorders in their growing infants and children. Often they don’t know the importance of early intervention since some of the early signs are seen as variations on normal childhood development. Be sure and discuss these issues and your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and dentist since these disorders can negatively affect your child’s development.
If you are a Charlotte-area resident who is due for a dental exam or is experiencing symptoms of these disorders, contact us today to schedule an examination. For over ten years, the team at Southview Dentistry has helped patients achieve their healthiest smile. Your doctor at Southview is not only a dentist but a trained myofunctional therapist.