Tiny Muscles With a Big Impact

Have you ever heard the saying that form follows function? It’s true of a lot of things, from architecture to nature. For example, it’s the long, narrow shape of an albatross’ wings that give it such a distinctive appearance, but that shape also allows these birds to fly for hours over huge stretches of the ocean without a single flap of their wings. That trait in turn enables them to spend years at a time flying over the open sea without ever touching land. Similarly, the way that the muscles in your face, cheeks, lips, tongue, and throat work together impacts the appearance of your face and allows you to carry out a wide range of essential daily functions, such as breathing and swallowing.

This may sound less grand than the tasks an albatross’ wings allow it to carry out, but it’s just as important! When these muscles aren’t working together the way they should be, it can affect the appearance of your face and even your overall health. Thankfully, orofacial myofunctional therapy can help build strength in those muscles, enabling them to do their jobs and improving your overall health. If this is the first time you’re hearing about orofacial myofunctional therapy, however, you’re not alone. We’ve put together a guide to help you better understand this treatment and how it can improve your health.

What are orofacial malfunction disorders?

An orofacial malfunction disorder is when the muscles of your face, mouth, and throat aren’t working together correctly. This can cause problems with tasks like breathing, swallowing, chewing, sucking, and speaking. One sign of an orofacial malfunction disorder is your mouth having an incorrect relaxed posture. You might be thinking, “Wait, there’s a correct posture for my mouth?” There absolutely is—it’s just that this posture is usually automatic, so you don’t think about it. When relaxed, your tongue should be resting lightly against the top palate of your mouth and there should be a small gap between your top and bottom molars. Incorrect oral posture can cause health issues in the same way that sitting with incorrect posture does. Correcting your posture when you sit is a matter of building the muscle strength and the right habits until it feels natural and effortless, and building good oral posture is very similar. As a result, it’s actually easy to treat these disorders.

What is orofacial myofunctional therapy and why is it so important?

Orofacial myofunctional therapy is the method of treating these conditions in people of all ages by training the muscles in your cheeks, lips, tongue, and face to function together properly. To accomplish this, most people are given simple, easy exercises to practice daily over a period of six to 12 months. The therapy often takes a holistic approach, so you may work with several professionals, such as a dentist, orthodontist, or osteopath to receive a treatment that considers every angle of how your condition affects you. This isn’t always needed, but when it is, it can ensure that you get the best possible results. Everyone is different, though, so treatment times and methods vary from person to person. Once complete, everyday tasks like swallowing, chewing, breathing, and more will become simple and easy—exactly the way they should be.

The importance of these daily tasks is exactly why orofacial myofunctional therapy is so important—after all, the average person swallows between 500 and 1000 times a day. When you do anything that many times, even a seemingly simple issue can cause problems. When you’re not swallowing properly, for example, you’re more likely to swallow air by accident. This can lead to stomachaches and digestive issues. Since it’s constant, poor oral posture and the resting position of your tongue are actually the most damaging to your oral and overall health. Thankfully, treating it with orofacial myofunctional therapy can resolve the issue, improving your health in ways you may not have even realized it could.

How can orofacial myofunctional therapy improve oral health?

Orofacial myofunctional disorders can cause a wide range of issues with your oral and overall health, so receiving treatment can transform your appearance and your daily life. The constant pressure of your tongue against your teeth can cause them to shift forward, resulting in orthodontic issues that keep reappearing even after you’ve had your teeth straightened. Undergoing therapy builds the habit of resting your tongue against the top of your palate without even thinking about it, preventing it from shifting your teeth and allowing orthodontic treatments to stay effective in the long run. Since straight teeth are easier to clean, this also helps your oral hygiene. Orofacial myofunctional therapy can also correct or prevent mouth breathing as well as issues with your temporomandibular joint.

In children, proper oral posture is particularly important because it actually helps children’s jaws grow properly. Identifying and treating an orofacial myofunctional disorder early helps children’s jaws grow and develop, making sure there’s enough room in their mouths for their adult teeth to erupt normally.

How can these disorders affect overall health?

These disorders aren’t just an issue for your oral health, though—they can also cause issues with your overall health. Orofacial myofunctional disorders can contribute to or cause sleep-disordered breathing or sleep apnea. These sleep problems often lead to severe fatigue and trouble concentrating, but sleep apnea also increases risks of health conditions like frequent headaches, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Orofacial myofunctional therapy strengthens your muscles, allowing them to function properly even in your sleep. This means you’ll breathe the way you’re meant to, lowering these risks and allowing you to start getting full, refreshing nights of sleep again. Strengthening these muscles and building the proper swallowing technique into an unconscious habit can also improve digestive issues, giving you fewer stomachaches—an issue you may not have even realized could be due to your orofacial myofunctional disorder.

It’s truly amazing how well form follows function in even the smallest ways. Sometimes, though, form needs a little help to be strong enough to carry out its intended function—and that’s okay! Orofacial myofunctional therapy can help the muscles in your face, mouth, and throat do exactly what they’re meant to, improving your health and the way you feel on a daily basis in ways you may not have expected. If you’d like to learn more about this treatment and how it may help you, feel free to call our Ada, OK office to schedule an appointment at any time.