Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) is neuromuscular re-education that aims to achieve adequate oral and facial muscular patterns for optimal functioning of breathing, chewing, swallowing, speech and even sleeping. This therapy is a profound technique that may be effective in managing symptoms and providing solutions associated with mild to moderate sleep apnea, poor digestion, headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, periodontal disease and many other common problems. The therapy includes simple facial and tongue exercises, as well as behavior modification techniques to encourage proper growth, improve, strengthen and tone the coordination of orofacial structures including lips, cheeks, tongue, pharynx and jaw. With OMT, a patient can regain the joy of eating and speaking, and enjoy cosmetic improvements that help restore confidence and self-esteem.
The human body is a wondrously complex combination of tissues, bones and chemicals. To keep this mechanical marvel operating at its best, the body needs to properly coordinate its functions. However, as with any complicated system, when an important function of the body is disrupted, problems develop.
The act of swallowing depends on proper patterning of the muscles and nerves in the tongue, cheeks and throat. When a person swallows normally the tip of the tongue presses firmly against the roof of the mouth. The tongue acts as a starting point, that allows other muscles involved in swallowing to function and pattern normally. Because a person swallows 500 to 1000 times per day, it’s easy to see how improper swallowing can cause a variety of problems.
When a person swallows incorrectly, the tip and/or sides of the tongue press against or spread between the teeth. This is referred to as a tongue thrust. Constant pressure from resting or thrusting the tongue away from the roof of the mouth may result in improper growth and push teeth out of place, resulting in many problems. These problems may include but are certainly not limited to difficulties in biting, chewing, swallowing and digesting foods.
Orthodontic treatment often accompanies orofacial therapy. If incorrect muscle patterning or swallowing has created a malocclusion, learning proper techniques may prevent further damage. Special orthodontic appliances and/or braces will be needed to reposition dental problems that have occurred already. OMT will ensure stable and lasting results provided by orthodontic care.
Habitual sucking of the thumb or fingers may also cause misaligned jaws and teeth as well as a swallowing problem. Thumb sucking can push the tongue into an unnatural position when swallowing or resting, which can damage the teeth and dental arches. Correct positioning of the tongue and lips can also be difficult when this occurs, leading to an improper functioning pattern. Other habits include finger nail biting, lip biting, tongue sucking, as well as clenching and grinding of the teeth.
A person with abnormal oral muscles patterns may suffer a lisp or have difficulty articulating sounds. If muscles in the tongue and lips are incorrectly postured, that can prevent a person from forming sounds of normal speech.
Air way restrictions within the body can lead to swallowing difficulty. A respiratory disorder or airway obstruction can be a cause. The tonsils and adenoids are part of the immune system in children. Tonsils are located at the back of the throat and adenoids are situated in the posterior portion of the nose. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids reduce or prevent nasal breathing, proper function of the soft palate and middle ear and may cause obstructive sleep apnea. Physical abnormalities and allergies may also contribute to airway blockages. These types of issues result in mouth breathing and improper growth of the maxilla, lower jaw, nose, mouth, neck and shoulders. This can also lead to long face, gum disease, sleep disorders, temporomandibular joint disorders, forward head posture and behavior issues in children.
Ankyloglossia, also known as tongue-tie is defined as an unusually short, thick or tight band of tissue (lingual frenum) that tethers the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. This restricts the tongue’s range of motion. Tongue-tie can also affect the way a person eats, breaths, speaks and swallows, as well as interfere with breast-feeding. If necessary, tongue-tie can be treated with a simple surgical procedure called a frenectomy, which is then immediately followed by a course of tongue exercises to re-pattern the proper function of the tongue, to assure maximum benefit from the procedure. Restricted buccal or labial frenums, known as lip-tie, are similar problems, but involve the restriction of the upper lip. After a course of exercises aimed at stretching the tissue and creating a proper lip seal the tissue then can be evaluated for the need for surgical release.