Good oral health requires that all your facial structures work in harmony and involves far more than just your teeth.
Good oral health requires that all your facial structures work in harmony and involves far more than just your teeth. When your facial muscles do not work correctly, it can impact chewing and swallowing, your breathing and speech, and the health of your jaw joints called temporomandibular joints. You may find it tricky to maintain good oral hygiene, and it is an issue that can affect orthodontic treatment and facial appearance.
Disorders affecting your facial muscles are known as orofacial myofunctional disorders or OMDs. Most oral-facial myofunctional disorders are due to incorrect breathing and swallowing habits.
What Happens When You Swallow Correctly?
When you swallow, it requires your facial muscles and the nerves in your cheeks, tongue, and throat to be properly balanced so they can work together harmoniously. When a person swallows correctly, the tip of their tongue will press against the hard palate or roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. The action coordinates with all the other facial muscles involved when you swallow, and the roof of your mouth absorbs the force created when your tongue presses against it.
Swallowing might seem an insignificant facial movement, but you swallow between 500 and 700 times every day, even during sleep. If you don’t swallow correctly, it can cause problems, but a more significant issue is the position of your tongue when resting. This position can cause more damage because it is almost constant.
Dental Problems Caused When You Swallow Incorrectly
If you cannot swallow correctly, the side or tip of your tongue can press against your teeth, an issue known as tongue thrusting. Continued tongue thrusting can eventually push teeth out of place and prevent teeth from erupting correctly. When teeth are pushed out of position or cannot erupt properly, it can create an abnormal bite, where your upper and lower teeth fail to align properly. An abnormal bite can make it tricky to bite and chew food and to avoid swallowing air.
Signs of incorrect tongue placement affect facial appearance. The lips can be permanently parted and trying to swallow causes the lips to purse and tighten, creating a grimacing expression as the facial muscles are overused. It can affect speech, causing a lisp or difficulty in articulating specific sounds. People with OMDs may be more at risk for sleep-disordered breathing, an issue that can cause signs such as snoring and sleep apnoea.
Other Dental Problems That Can Create OMDs
Other dental problems that can create OMDs include thumb or finger sucking habits, as these force the tongue lower, pushing it against the teeth. Sometimes a child will have enlarged tonsils that partially block their airway and make it impossible for their tongue to rest naturally.
How Oral Myofunctional Therapy Can Help
If we notice you or your child have problems with tongue positioning, we may suggest myofunctional therapy. Myofunctional treatment is a very gentle and painless way to help correct problems caused by the improper rest position of the tongue.
Myofunctional treatment uses a series of exercises and oral appliances to gradually train the tongue and facial muscles until they coordinate correctly. Usually, patients need to follow a program of exercises over a 6 to 12-month period. Following these exercises each day is critical for treatment success and will result in improved breathing and oral health, protecting the jaw joints and preventing symptoms like facial pain and headaches. When your facial muscles work together harmoniously, it can improve your overall appearance.
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