What is Myofunctional Therapy? A Brief Overview For Parents

How Dentists Treat Orofacial Disorders in Kids with Myofunctional Therapy

As kids grow, their bodies are going through an incredible number of changes in a relatively short period of time. Sometimes this leads to the development of muscular or functional disorders relating to the face and mouth. These disorders are referred to as orofacial myofunctional disorders, or OMDs for short.

OMDs cause a number of problems for children, from speech impediments to TMJ-related pain. Orofacial myofunctional therapy is an approach to treating these OMDs through a simple but detailed series of orofacial therapy sessions. 

What is myofunctional therapy?

Myofunctional therapy doesn’t describe one specific exercise, but rather a holistic approach to treating OMDs through a combination of different exercises for facial muscles. These therapy exercises are tailored to your child’s specific needs by targeting the neck, face, and oral tissues that are being impaired or negatively impacted by their OMD.

How does myofunctional therapy work?

Most myofunctional therapy treatment plans rely on both in-office and at-home exercises. This therapy for kids works by retraining facial and oral muscles that are underperforming or performing abnormally. It can address behavioral disorders (ie, thumbsucking habits) as well as disorders caused by malocclusion and congenital conditions. Genetics also play an important role in the facial structure, strength, and potential risk for OMDs.

Kids often struggle more with tongue position and facial muscle control than adults. This is why many treatment programs for kids focus on improving jaw alignment, neck posture, and most importantly, proper tongue positioning. Tongue positioning directly impacts the alignment of teeth, healthy nasal breathing, and proper facial development as children grow.

Your child’s dentist or myofunctional therapy care provider will select a series of exercises that focus on the particular OMD your child has. With regular practice, it’s possible to fix a number of OMDs in children.

When is myofunctional therapy recommended for kids?

Your child’s dentist will often be the first to notice that your child has an OMD and approach you about the possibility of myofunctional therapy.

Some of the more common signs that myofunctional therapy is necessary includes:

  • Snoring and other symptoms of pediatric sleep apnea.
  • Open-mouth breathing during the day and night.
  • Mouth hanging open when relaxed.
  • Abnormal tongue movement while speaking or eating.
  • Early signs of a speech impediment issue.
  • Delayed speech or unusual difficulty trying to speak.
  • Bite misalignment, such as an over- or underbite.
  • Trouble eating due to tongue or facial muscle movement.
  • Jaw pain or TMJ pain relating to a TMD or weak facial muscle.

In many cases, therapy can treat these issues, however, in severe cases, it may be part of a broader treatment plan that includes behavioral therapy, speech therapy, or orthodontic care.

What are the benefits of myofunctional therapy?

A typical child’s treatment program can help:

  • Reverse tongue thrusting habits when swallowing.
  • Encourage nasal breathing rather than open mouth breathing.
  • Curb prolonged thumbsucking and other bad oral habits (i.e. nail biting).
  • Treat bruxism (teeth grinding) and jaw clenching relating to behavioral habits or an underlying TMJ disorder.
  • Encourage proper facial muscle growth and development over the years as they grow.
  • Improve their overall posture, particularly through the neck and head carriage.
  • Treat chronic snoring caused by obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Myofunctional therapy can also help with your child’s current or future orthodontic care in two ways. If your child has an OMD that can lead to malocclusions, such as thumbsucking or tongue thrusting, this therapy can help reduce the severity. In return, if orthodontic care is needed, treatment will be more efficient and quicker than without myofunctional therapy. 

How can I learn more about myofunctional therapy for my child?

The best way to learn more about myofunctional therapy for kids and how your own child may benefit is through a consultation at your dentist’s office. My Chico Dentist specializes in helping kids who need myofunctional therapy to address disorders relating to tongue or jaw positioning, open mouth breathing, and pediatric OSA symptoms. If you believe your child would benefit from myofunctional therapy, you can book a consultation today by calling our Chico, CA, office or using this online request form.

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