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Treating Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders and Why I Take It Personally

Lesley McGovern Kupiec, RDH, MSDH

Do you know someone who has trouble sleeping, breathing, eating, or speaking? I do. That someone used to be me — until I discovered that I was suffering from an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder (OMD). OMDs cause the muscles of the face and mouth to fail to function properly. And while many people don’t realize it, there is a correct way to sleep, breathe, eat, and speak in order to function at our best. Yet, many OMD sufferers will simply perform these everyday functions incorrectly, by adapting to their circumstances. However, in doing so, they may suffer severe consequences because those adaptations can affect their quality of life.

OMDs and me
While OMDs can include a number of conditions, including cross bite, thumb-sucking, and a short upper lip, my particular challenge was anterior and posterior tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia. That’s to say, that because the small piece of tissue connecting the underside of my tongue to my mouth (the frenulum) was too short, my tongue was essentially tethered to my mouth in both the front (anterior) and back (posterior). Because of this condition, I exhibited symptoms of poor posture, breathing issues, and daytime clenching of my teeth. Once I learned that I didn’t have to live with these problems – I wanted to know everything I could about correcting them. As a dental hygienist who specializes in preventative health as it relates to the mouth, this wasn’t a big leap. After some training and additional courses, I was able to connect the dots between OMDs and my own health and help others to improve — not just their oral health, but also — their overall health and wellbeing.

Taking a team approach to Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy
Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) is a valuable treatment option for someone with an OMD. OMT uses a multi-disciplinary approach involving any number of medical professionals (dental hygienists, dentists, and speech language pathologists to name a few). Each member of a potential OMT team has had advanced training to help identify OMD issues and provide therapy within their scope of practice. These inter-professional relationships are imperative to managing OMDs. For example, someone with an OMD could potentially need to see an ear, nose and throat specialist as well as an orthodontist to help regain appropriate orofacial structure and function. Open communication and collaboration between knowledgeable professionals is key to helping clients achieve the best possible outcomes.

Finding solutions with OMT
OMT is designed to gain proper function of the muscles of the mouth and face by working toward a few crucial goals, including: nasal (versus mouth) breathing, a lip seal at rest, proper resting tongue posture on the roof of the mouth, and learning the correct swallowing pattern.

Because each situation is unique, Orofacial Myofunctional Therapists evaluate each client and create a program with exercises to help their specific set of circumstances. Sometimes improper structure or anatomical issues prevent proper function. For example, in my own case, my tongue-tie was a physical restriction that limited my range of motion. That meant that it was difficult to comfortably raise my tongue for proper placement within my mouth. So, for me, attaining the ideal structure was dependent on minor surgery (as is sometimes the case). I had what is known as functional frenuloplasty to release my tongue-tie. However, even when surgery is involved, OMT is still integral to treatment. Again, in my case, prior to surgery, the tongue needed to be prepared and strengthened through specific exercises. And then, following surgery, those exercises and therapy needed to continue in order to achieve maximum release of the tongue.

How intervention can improve quality of life
When it comes to Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders, early intervention is best. Often the earliest indication that an individual is at risk for developing an OMD is difficulty nursing as an infant. Tongue-tie, for example, makes it difficult for an infant to latch on or eat properly. And if this condition isn’t corrected, it could lead to improper development of the muscles and bone structure, and thus OMDs.

However, anyone with an OMD, no matter the age, can benefit from therapy. I had my surgery as an adult and noticed a great improvement in the quality of my life right away. Today, I stand up straighter, breath and eat more easily, and I no longer clench my teeth during the day, making the muscles of my jaw much more relaxed than ever before. Before therapy and surgery, getting my tongue to rest in the proper place on the roof of my mouth became strenuous and uncomfortable after long periods of time. Now, it’s practically second nature.

I choose to share my story with you for the same reason, I have made OMDs and OMT a personal passion. And that is because I know that there are others out there who were like me, and I know that they too can be helped. So, if you suspect you or someone you know might have an OMD, seek out a medical professional who has been trained to evaluate for them. I am living proof that it is never too late to make this change for the better.

 
 
 


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