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How the tongue affects the teeth and breathing

by MEGAN MACLEOD, M. SC RSLP (C) 

The field of Orofacial Myology has been around for quite some time but only recently is becoming better-known and making its way into the mainstream.

Anyone who has suffered from long-term allergies, had enlarged tonsils or adenoids, thumb sucked, or used a bottle, sippy cup, or pacifier for a prolonged period of time may find themselves with an orofacial myofunctional disorder - though these are just some of the causes. So what the heck is it?

An orofacial myofunctional disorder (or OMD) is an atypical pattern of functioning within the ‘orofacial complex,’ or facial area. Simply put, our tongue has a proper ‘home’ in our mouth. If something causes the tongue to take extended vacations (or permanent leave) away from this home, an OMD will occur. This is because our face shape, airways, jaw, and teeth all depend on our tongue staying in its home most of the time, in order to create a kind of natural retainer that keeps everything in place and growing healthily. 

A person with an OMD may:

Have parted lips when at rest

Breathe primarily through the mouth

Rest the tongue against teeth and/or low in the mouth

 Have a tongue thrust 

The impact of an OMD may include: 

    Improper alignment of teeth

    Abnormal jaw growth and positioning

    Having difficulty eating ‘tidily’ or being slow eaters

    Orthodontic relapse or inability to complete orthodontic program

    Distortions in speech (lisps being the most noticeable)

The great news is that treating an OMD is typically easy, with a bit of commitment and practice. Exercises are done to strengthen certain muscles of the tongue and face while also learning how to habitually rest, eat, drink, and swallow with the tongue in its healthy position.

If you suspect you or a family member might have an OMD, booking an assessment with me is a great place to start. For more information on the topic, check out the International Association of Orofacial Myology’s online resources.  

 

Heather Stone