What are Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder?

Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders manifest as unconventional, adaptive patterns arising when normalized patterns within the orofacial complex are lacking. The consistent occurrence of these adaptive movements frequently leads to various disruptions.

Examples of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders include one or a combination of the following:

  • Thumb and finger sucking habits

  • A routine habit of resting with the lips apart

  • A forward resting posture of the tongue between or against the teeth

  • Tongue Thrust

  • Non-nutritive habits
  • Nose picking
  • Hair eating
  • Nail biting
  • Other harmful oral habits

What are some of the causes of Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders?

It is often difficult to isolate a particular source as the root cause of an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder and in most cases, it can be result of a combination of factors. Many experts suggest that OMDs may develop as a result from the following:

  • A restricted nasal airway due to enlarged tonsils/adenoids, deviated septum, and/or allergies.
  • Improper oral habits such as thumb or finger sucking, cheek/nail/cuticle biting, teeth clenching/grinding, and tongue, lip or cheek sucking

  • Extended use of a pacifier and/or long-term use of sippy cups

  • Structural or physiological abnormalities which may include a short lingual frenum (tongue-tie)

  • Neurological deficits and developmental delays

  • Hereditary predisposition

  • Bedwetting is a possible sign of airway concerns
  • Physical development from birth trauma

The most commonly noted etiology of an OMD is a lack of nasal breathing. When nasal breathing is impeded, the body naturally accommodates by relying on mouth breathing. Long-term mouth breathing changes the natural resting position of the jaw, tongue and lips. This change in position can influence growth patterns of the jaw and maxilla and often result in the development of significant malocclusion. Furthermore, long term mouth breathing compromises the natural process of breathing which relies on the nasal airway to cleanse and purify air for the pulmonary system.

It is crucial to first address what may be contributing to the persistence of an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder before beginning treatment, as treatment may not be successful if the etiology persists. A Certified Orofacial Myologist can help you to determine what may be contributing to its presence, and can help refer you to the appropriate clinicians to address these concerns.

The following is a guideline as it relates to orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs) and the various age ranges.

Why be concerned about OMDs?

Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders interrupt normalized movement patterns. Orthodontists have documented their concerns about OMD’s since the early 1900’s. Failure to address an OMD can result in one or more of the following

  • Long term mouth-breathing patterns that compromise overall healthy breathing
  • Establish detrimental oral habits that impede further growth and development

  • Establish atypical patterns that impact chewing and swallowing

  • The improper development/alignment of the teeth

  • The improper development of jaw growth and facial structure

  • Slowing the process of orthodontic treatment

  • Undermining the long-term stability of orthodontic treatment, resulting in malocclusion relapse

  • Negatively impacting the stability and function of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

  • Speech distortions

  • Negatively affecting social relationships due to open mouth postures or noisy chewing and swallowing patterns

  • Normalized oral and physical movement patterns

A variety of peripheral pain issues like chronic facial, neck and back pain; headaches; tooth grinding and clenching; as well as temperomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD or TMD) have also been associated with OMD’s, as have episodes of tinnitus and vertigo.
Improper tongue position has also been associated with some sleep disordered breathing patterns.
Many individuals with OMD’s have been reported to have early delays in the area of feeding and swallowing. Picky eating patterns often emerge as a result of the lack of oral coordination needed in the first three years of life. Since OMD’s are typically associated with jaw, tongue and lip movement, speech patterns can also be impacted.

What Can Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Accomplish?

Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy involves an individualized program to help the patient retrain these adaptive patterns of muscle function, and to create and maintain a healthy orofacial environment. Treatment goals may include the following:

  • Normalize tongue and lip resting postures
  • Establish nasal breathing patterns

  • Establish atypical patterns that impact chewing and swallowing

  • Stabilize the dentition from extraneous orofacial muscle movement

  • Address harmful oral habits including:

    • Prolonged pacifier use
    • Thumb and/or finger sucking
    • Fingernail, cheek, or lip biting
    • Tongue sucking
    • Clenching or grinding of the teeth

Benefits of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy may include:

  • Correcting and improving tongue and lip postures which can aid in the development of normal patterns of dental eruption and alignment.
  • Assisting in the stabilization of the teeth during and/or after orthodontic treatment or jaw surgery
  • Identifying the need and referring for Speech treatment. Supporting the remediation of speech errors differently than some traditional methods (when working with a speech language pathologist trained in Orofacial Myology).

Treatment is often a collaborative process with a variety of medical and dental specialists. A Certified Orofacial Myologist® can help you determine what may be contributing to the presence of an OMD, and can help refer you to the appropriate clinicians to address these concerns.

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