Are you struggling with breathing or eating, or experiencing chronic facial pain? No one should have to live that way. If you are struggling with these issues, myofunctional therapy may be the solution. Our team of dental professionals can help retrain and strengthen your orofacial muscles to work more efficiently and help you breathe, speak, sleep, and eat more easily.
To answer your questions, we’ll look at:
- What is myofunctional therapy?
- Who can benefit from OMT?
- The importance of nasal breathing
- Risk factors for OMDs
- What happens during OMT?
- Children and OMT
- Adults and OMT
No one should have to struggle to breathe at night or live with the other side effects of myofunctional disorders. Continue reading to learn more about the symptoms of these disorders and how we can help you overcome them.
What is myofunctional therapy?
This is a common question when patients first hear about the topic. The official definition of myofunctional therapy is the “neurologic re-education of the oral and facial muscles through a series of therapeutic techniques.” But what does that mean, exactly?
In short, all it really means is that you train and strengthen the muscles of the:
Myofunctional therapy is also known as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) due to it focusing on your oral and facial muscles. It’s designed to treat orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs) that affect the tongue and lips, as well as other orofacial muscles.
Who can benefit from OMT?
Taylor is our very own OMT specialist. According to her, most people can benefit from treatment. However, it’s still not for everyone. She says that’s an important distinction to make when discussing it with patients.
As she puts it:
For instance, many people think that it’s mainly for kids, but a lot of adults can benefit from it, too. This is because myofunctional therapy focuses on nasal breathing. Breathing is the body’s main function and it will compensate in any possible way to do so. That’s how habits are formed, so a lot of people call me a “habit corrector.”
Myofunctional experts like Taylor play an important role in therapy. If you’re interested in OMT, you can trust that our team will let you know if you’ll actually benefit from it or not.
The Importance of Nasal Breathing
Nitric oxide is a gas that gets released from your paranasal sinuses when you breathe through your nose. This gas plays a key role in:
- Pain regulation
- Blood flow
- Supplying oxygen to your brain
Another benefit of nasal breathing is getting a good night’s sleep.
“Poor sleep can send your body into sympathetic overdrive,” explains Taylor. “This is made worse by oral breathing, which causes your jaw and tongue to rest further back. In this position, your tongue actually blocks your airway, resulting in the lack of nitric oxide.”
Failure to breathe through your nose can also lead to hormonal imbalances in your body. It can have a big impact on your insulin as well as ghrelin, which tells the brain when to store energy. When these hormones are imbalanced, your body can go into “survival mode.” Mouth breathing can also interfere with leptin, which regulates your appetite and metabolism.
One of the most concerning side effects of mouth breathing is sleep apnea. It’s a sleep disorder in which you stop and start breathing repeatedly throughout the night. Different forms of sleep apnea exist, but OMDs are most closely associated with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is when your throat muscles relax while you sleep, causing you to stop breathing.
Fortunately, there is evidence that supports OMT as an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. According to a 2018 review of 11 studies, “OMT is effective for the treatment of adults in reducing the severity of OSA and snoring, and improving the quality of life.” It is especially effective when combined with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).
Other Downsides of Mouth Breathing
The effects of OMDs aren’t limited to poor quality of sleep. In fact, they can impact your physical and mental health in very severe ways. Taylor explains that people living with OMDs are also more likely to experience:
- Ear infections
- Sinus problems
- Gastric reflux
Taylor also cautions her patients that certain neurological issues have been linked to myofunctional disorders. These include:
- Headaches and migraines
OMDs can even affect your bladder at night. They have been linked to children wetting the bed at night and adults needing to make frequent visits to the restroom.
Risk Factors for OMDs
There are multiple risk factors of myofunctional disorders. “People with tongue-ties are at a high risk,” explains Taylor. “This is due to an anchor on your tongue that holds down your lower jaw. Some folks find ways to compensate and don’t run into any issues. However, we have patients who really struggle.”
Bottle feeding for too long can also be a major contributor. According to Taylor, “You’re learning to breathe and swallow at the same time and bottle-feeding can delay weaning off liquids and moving to solid foods. Failure to do so can delay important muscle functions that help you tolerate textures of foods early on in life.”
Other risk factors include:
- Lip ties
- Blanket chewers
- Tongue sucking
- Finger chewers
- Nasal obstructions
- Low tongue rest posture
- TMJ disorders
Tongue-ties create a lingual frenulum, which is a band of skin that connects the bottom of your tongue to the floor of your mouth. Also known as lingual ties, tongue-ties develop in the womb. These bands are made of soft tissues that can be tight or thick and can hamper the mouth’s everyday functions.
Difficulties may include:
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Requiring a speech pathologist when speech is affected by a tongue-tie
- Problems eating or reaching the back teeth
- Being bothered or distracted by your own tongue-tie symptoms
Tongue-ties don’t always create major problems. In fact, some people get along just fine and are never severely impacted by their tongue-tie. On the other hand, they can make it hard to speak by preventing the tongue from fully lifting, moving from side to side, and sticking out past your front teeth. Tongue-ties can also make your tongue appear misshapen when stuck out.
Your upper lip and upper gums are connected by a piece of tissue known as the superior labial frenulum. While everyone has one, some people’s labial frenulum may be stiffer or thicker than normal, preventing the upper lip from moving around as it should. This is known as a lip tie (labial tie) and it can create problems for sufferers of all ages.
Like with tongue-ties, one of the problems resulting from a lip tie is difficulty breastfeeding. Signs that your child is having problems breastfeeding due to a lip tie can include:
- Difficulty latching on to the breast
- Trouble breathing while nursing
- Making clicking noises while feeding
- Frequently falling asleep while nursing
- Seeming exhausted while breastfeeding
- Slow or total lack of weight gain
Also like tongue-ties, severe cases of lip ties can make it difficult for your child to eat finger foods or with a spoon. They may also increase your child’s chances of developing cavities as they grow into toddlers.
TMJ is short for temporomandibular joint, which connects your skull and jawbone on both sides of your face. It allows your jaw to move by working as a sliding hinge. Your TMJ is what gives you the ability to talk, chew, and even yawn. Unfortunately, sometimes your TMJ can malfunction and result in a TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder.
TMD can cause pain and soreness when moving your jaw, whatever the reason. Experts aren’t certain of what causes TMDs. However, one significant theory is that it’s related to long-term mouth breathing associated with myofunctional disorders.
Clenched and popping jaws are common symptoms of TMD. Under this research-supported theory, they’re actually the result of the airway resistance that develops from myofunctional disorders. This causes your airway to become narrow or completely blocked by mucus, tonsils, or adenoids.
Your body’s number one function is to breathe, so it will naturally compensate for narrowing and blockages of the airway. In this case, it compensates with teeth grinding (especially while you’re asleep). This results in common TMD-related symptoms such as:
- Neck pain
- Facial pain
- Back pain
Want to learn more about TMD and why dentists are your best source of treatment? Read Could I Have TMD? to learn more about why dentists are your best source of treatment.
All of these risk factors can lead to difficulties early in life as well as further down the road. Airway obstructions can lead to sleep-disordered breathing, which can cause physical and neurological problems in sufferers. Your best course of action is to seek treatment to alleviate your symptoms and live a well-rested life.
What happens during OMT?
You can find plenty of articles about OMT online. However, they’re no substitute for professional treatment from specialists like Taylor. She acts as your guide as you work through orofacial myofunctional therapy exercises to improve breathing.
Taylor starts with her patients by promoting:
- Nasal breathing exercises
- Proper tongue posture
- Breastfeeding and slow-flow bottles
- Switching to solid foods around 6 months old
- Switching to regular cups around 9 months old
She also works to break habits that you may have developed to compensate for mouth breathing. These parafunctional habits affect your mouth, tongue, and jaw if you don’t breathe through your nose.
How long does OMT take?
Depending on how much effort you put in, you can expect your treatment to last between five months to a year. You will need to purchase myofunctional therapy tools along with your therapy. Appointments are monthly and Taylor also performs Zoom calls to check in with patients. She uses this time to evaluate your progress and answer any questions you may have.
Are you interested in OMT for yourself or your child? Contact us today to schedule an appointment! For more input from Taylor — OMT, RDH, BS — check out our full interview with her on treatment for OMDs.
Myofunctional Therapy for Children
You want your child to have the best life that they can. Along with having a healthy smile, you want them to be able to breathe as easily as possible. We use physical therapy exercises to improve your child’s breathing, facial posture, and bite. They help to improve the position of the tongue for more efficient orofacial muscle movement.
But the benefits don’t end there. Along with improved breathing, OMT exercises have the ability to improve your child’s quality of sleep and even their mood. With treatment, your child has the opportunity to experience an improved overall quality of life.
Signs Your Child May Need OMD Therapy
OMDs occur when the natural growth of the bones and muscles of the mouth and face are obstructed in some way. If this happens, your child may have trouble:
Some kids outgrow these problems as their orofacial muscles and bones develop over time, or they learn to compensate. On the other hand, OMD symptoms can also last into their teenage years and even adulthood. It’s important to have your child assessed early on to prevent any long-term effects from occurring.
Tongue-ties can be especially problematic in children. As Taylor explains:
We have to be more aggressive with tongue ties in infants and children. Why give them a reason to compensate? Especially if they are already symptomatic. If you don’t know much about tongue ties, I would stay on the conservative side or ask for a second opinion. I would really encourage everyone to further educate yourself on lingual ties.
For Taylor and other myofunctional disorder specialists, the goal is to address issues such as tongue-ties, lip ties, thumb sucking, and others before they have a chance to cause more serious problems.
Treating OMDs in Children
We focus on tongue posture and the Buteyko Breathing Method to treat your child’s OMDs. Tongue posture can have a huge impact on their sleep, making the difference between easy breathing and labored breaths. When left in a low position, your child’s tongue can actually obstruct their air pathway.
On the other hand, correct tongue posture can result in:
- Better sleep
- Straighter teeth
- Improved chewing
- Better posture
- Higher serotonin levels
Pioneered by Dr. Konstantin Buteyko in the 1950s, the Buteyko Breathing Method treats breathing issues such as sleep apnea and asthma as symptoms of hyperventilation. This method encourages your child to breathe through their nose. When combined with proper tongue posture, they’ll be breathing more easily without the need for surgery. For more information about childhood OMT, check out our recent blog.
Myofunctional Therapy for Adults
It’s never too late to breathe easier and get a good night’s sleep. That’s why we offer myofunctional therapy for adults as well as children. Our combination of physical therapy exercises is designed to strengthen the muscles in your mouth, face, and neck. This can help alleviate your symptoms and make life easier for yourself and those around you.
OMD Symptoms in Adults
There are a few common OMD symptoms for adults. They can result in facial pain, difficulty breathing, as well as difficulty swallowing and breathing through your nose. Common symptoms of OMD symptoms include:
- TMD-related facial pain
- Snoring and sleep apnea
- Tongue thrust
TMD-Related Facial Pain
We’ve already discussed how TMD may be the result of blocked airways that cause symptoms such as facial, neck, and back pain along with headaches. These symptoms may be the result of tongue-ties that limit the tongue’s full range of motion. In some cases, this limited range of motion may be the source of TMD pain.
One study found data to support this view. Using 40 subjects, the researchers used various treatment methods for TMD. One group was treated using OMT, another with an occlusal splint (an orthodontic treatment), the third was left untreated as a control group, and the fourth had no symptoms of TMD.
The groups that received some form of treatment saw significant improvement in their TMD symptoms compared to the others. However, the subjects that OMT saw the most improvement.
According to the study, they experienced:
- Significantly less pain
- Increased range of motion in the jaw
- Improved conditions of the orofacial structure
- Reduced signs and symptoms of TMD
Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring and sleep apnea are caused by weak muscles in the tongue, mouth, and upper throat. These soft tissues can collapse while you sleep, making nighttime difficult for you as well as those around you.
Fortunately, OMT may be able to help. Studies have found that therapy can decrease the severity of sleep apnea in some cases, reducing them to milder levels in moderate cases. This is more ideal for many who want to avoid surgery or noisy CPAP machines.
Cases where the tongue pushes too far forward in the mouth are known as tongue thrust. They’re often accompanied by:
- Swollen tonsils
- Swollen adenoids
- Chronic allergies
- Messy eating
Tongue thrust can also cause your facial features to become elongated, as well as make it hard to close your mouth or swallow normally.
To combat these issues, we focus on proper placement of your tongue, lips, and jaw. This corrects issues with swallowing as well as the alignment of your teeth. Click here to read our blog about OMT for adults.
Myofunctional therapy training involves the strengthening of the muscles in the tongue, throat, and face. It promotes nasal breathing to treat sleep apnea as well as a host of other related issues. Risk factors can be present at birth, but others may be the result of poor habits. OMT involves breaking these habits and replacing them with better ones. It’s best to address OMDs as early as possible, but adults can benefit from it just as much as children.
Are you concerned that you may be suffering from an OMD? Contact us today and get started on your journey to breathing more easily!
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