Myofunctional treatment corrects problems with facial muscles and can be used alongside orthodontic therapy. Myofunctional literally means muscle function. Studies suggest that three out of four growing kids have misaligned teeth and issues with facial development, mainly caused by soft tissue problems.
Adolescents and adults also get orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs), which can lead to swallowing and speech difficulties as well as dental issues. Orthodontists fix misaligned teeth and jaws, and malfunction of muscles in the face and mouth can be part of this problem.
Everything in your oral and facial structure is interconnected, sometimes in intricate patterns. If facial muscles aren’t doing their job properly, the positioning and health of your teeth can suffer.
Besides crooked teeth, facial muscle dysfunction can cause oral health disorders including:
- Tongue problems.
- Sleep apnea.
- Teeth grinding or clenching.
Myofunctional issues can also lead to painful jaw problems.
Myofunctional Treatment for Tongue Thrust
Myofunctional treatment can be used in cases of tongue thrust, which refers to the pressure exerted by the tongue on teeth when speaking or swallowing. While normal in infancy, tongue thrust should recede as a child develops. If it doesn’t, the problem can over time push teeth out of position.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association1 (ASHA), tongue thrusting when swallowing affects up to half of school kids. The Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy2 (AOMT) says constant pressure of the tongue between or against the teeth can cause an open bite – when misalignment of upper and lower teeth gives the appearance of an open mouth even when it’s closed.
Treatment for tongue thrust includes oral appliances and exercises to retrain the tongue function.
Myofunctional Treatment for Tongue Ties
As well as tongue thrust, myofunctional problems can also cause a phenomenon known as tongue ties.
Diagnosis of tongue ties has increased significantly in recent years. The problem stems from an abnormality in a piece of tissue called the lingual frenum (or frenulum) – located between the floor of your mouth and the base of the tongue.
If the frenum is too short or too thick, it limits your tongue movement – the origin of the expression “tongue-tied” – and this can result in problems with swallowing and where your teeth feel the most pressure.
The frenum can be removed with a simple surgical procedure called a frenectomy, freeing the tongue and enabling normal speech and swallowing.
Myofunctional Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Muscle weakness in the upper throat and the mouth can result in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a fairly common issue that interrupts breathing.
OSA occurs when the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep. An estimated 18 million adults in the U.S. and two percent of children suffer from sleep apnea. Various treatments are available, including breathing apparatus while you sleep.
The problem may also be improved with healthy lifestyle changes alongside myofunctional muscle-strengthening exercises, especially in children. Conditioning the muscles of the mouth and throat can help them to be more effective in keeping the airway open during sleep.
Myofunctional Treatment for Bruxism
Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching) mostly occurs while sleeping but can also happen unconsciously during the day. The condition can result in damage to teeth, and headaches and jaw issues. People with sleep bruxism often have other sleep disorders, such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.
Orthodontic appliances based on myofunctional techniques can be used to treat bruxism as well as improve dental and facial development. Other myofunctional therapy includes tongue and facial exercises.
Behavior modification techniques may also help bruxism sufferers. The Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy highlights the connection between stress and bruxism.
Myofunctional Treatment for Jaw Problems
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is characterized by pain in the jaw joint that can be caused by various medical problems. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your mandible (lower jaw) to the temporal bone of the skull in front of the ear. Some facial muscles that control chewing are also connected to the mandible.
TMD is most prevalent in the 20 to 40 age bracket (more women than men), although children as young as 14 have been diagnosed with the problem. Besides jaw pain, TMD can cause headaches, earache, facial discomfort, and eating difficulties. TMD may resolve itself without treatment, but if the condition persists, severe symptoms can significantly reduce the patient’s quality of life.
Myofunctional therapy can be used to treat temporomandibular joint disorder by toning neck and head muscles. Orthodontic braces provide a further option to treat TMD by gradually adjusting the position of teeth to correct a misaligned bite.
Symptoms of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders
No single factor has been determined as a cause of orofacial myofunctional disorders, but symptoms may include:
- Stomach pain or gas from digestive problems caused by inadequate chewing of food.
- Protruding tongue while swallowing.
- Lips apart when swallowing.
- Open bite.
- Mouth breathing.
- Elongated facial development.
Complications of Myofunctional Disorders
Your mouth may be a small part of your anatomy but its interlinked components – including teeth, tongue, and muscles – are crucial in enabling you to eat, drink and speak, and show your smile.
Myofunctional disorders can over time cause multiple problems, including:
- Dental malocclusion (teeth not coming together properly).
- Difficulty chewing.
- Problems swallowing.
- Impaired speech.
- Cosmetic issues such as a long face.
- Weak lips.
- Breathing issues.
Myofunctional ailments can also destabilize orthodontic treatment, resulting in relapse.
Myofunctional Treatments and Orthodontics
The connection between weak oral and facial muscles and misaligned teeth has prompted some orthodontists to expand their skill set by focusing on myofunctional treatments3 to further benefit their patients.
You may also be able to get advice from your orthodontist on how to correct bad habits that can contribute to orofacial myofunctional disorders, such as mouth breathing, and thumb-sucking in children after infancy.
Myofunctional therapy alone can’t directly move teeth back into their proper position but combined with orthodontic therapy may provide the best outcome for a broad range of oral health problems.
According to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), a thorough orthodontic assessment is necessary before oral myotherapy, which has a success rate of up to 90 percent. The AAO adds that the role of dental professionals in patient motivation is critical.