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Myofunctional therapy and tongue posture explained!

Updated: Feb 7

Especially during our growth and development stage, muscle movement and structural growth are inextricably tied to one another. Using the right muscle functions of the tongue, face, mouth, and jaw from a young age allows for proper development of the jaws, airway passages, and dentition (teeth arrangement).

However, not all of us make it to adulthood without experiencing abnormalities that affect the function and cause orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs). Thankfully, myofunctional therapy, a form of physical therapy which uses a combination of exercises, can help to correct “abnormal” facial posture and gradually rehabilitate the muscles to the optimal position.

In this blog post, we look at the common orofacial myofunctional disorders, their signs, and causes and learn how myofunctional therapy training can help to alleviate symptoms.

What is an OMD?

Orofacial myofunctional disorders are abnormalities in the development and function of the oral and facial muscles. When at rest, your tongue, teeth, jaw, and orofacial muscles should relax in a specific spot.

As it moves around, the tongue’s position in the mouth is a significant indicator of OMDs. You may not think much of the tongue other than an organ that helps us taste and facilitates digestion, but it is actually a central component of our overall health. Since the early stages of development, your tongue’s position is crucial in shaping the roof of the mouth, which is also the floor of the sinus.

Studies have shown that the tongue's best resting position is on the mouth's roof. This position supports the upper jaw while facilitating breathing and swallowing patterns. When eating or drinking, the tongue also follows a specific pattern. However, in patients with OMDs, it adopts a different pattern referred to as a tongue thrust.

Signs of OMDs

Left uncorrected over time, OMDs can lead to complications such as a lazy tongue, mouth breathing, crooked or misaligned teeth, narrow dental arches and facial features. It can also induce speech problems, sinus issues, teeth grinding, sleep-disordered breathing, obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, and the list goes on…

All these issues can affect function and cause a domino effect for many other potentially life-long health concerns, but they can be fixed by myofunctional therapy.

Tongue thrust

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A tongue thrust occurs when the tongue presses against or between the front teeth while swallowing. Eventually, as the tongue constantly pushes against the teeth, it could force them out of alignment, leading to crooked teeth. This process can also cause malocclusion or an abnormal bite, which is when the upper and lower teeth aren't properly aligned. Because of this, people with OMDs have difficulties biting, chewing, swallowing, and digesting.

Mouth Breathing

Maintaining correct orofacial muscle position is vital for breathing. Nasal breathing is regarded as the “correct” way of breathing as it humidifies, warms, and filters the air before it goes into our lungs. But that’s not all; nasal breathing also aids in the proper development of the sinus and airway passages. (Learn more from my blog post Mouth breathing: What it does to you and simple ways to prevent it)