You probably don’t think too much about your tongue. It’s there when you need it – like, when you’re licking an ice cream cone – and tucked away when you’re not. Sometimes you might burn it on hot coffee or soup, but that’s probably the biggest trouble it can cause, right?
Wrong. You might not believe it, but tongue positioning is an important indicator of oral and overall health.
Although babies are typically born with tongues that stick out a bit, there is a normal receding process that happens as a child develops. If something prevents that progression and a child’s tongue protrudes during swallowing, speaking and even at rest, it’s known as an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD). In fact, any disorder of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth falls under this diagnosis.
Left untreated in children and adults, OMD can actually cause a myriad of other problems all over your body, including:
- Misaligned teeth
- Facial pain
- Mouth breathing
- Stomach aches
- Speech problems
- Sleep apnea
Who knew improper tongue positioning could cause such havoc!?
Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder – Where Does It Start?
OMD typically appears in developing children. Many times, it will start with insufficient nasal breathing or mouth breathing. Such issues can be caused by allergies or chronic nasal congestion. If a child can’t breathe properly through his or her nose because it’s clogged and begins to rely on mouth breathing, the tongue will be forced to lie flat and lip muscles will weaken.
Similarly, OMD can also be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids that block air passages. Even after tonsils are removed, the mouth-breathing habit can continue and cause more issues.
And although family heredity does play a role in the size and strength of facial muscles, parents will be chagrined to learn that thumb-sucking and extended pacifier use in babies can also lead to the disorder.
Signs and Symptoms
You may be able to recognize the signs of OMD in your young child. If you notice she is snoring regularly, breathing through her mouth consistently or developing speech issues – such as lisping – it’s a good idea to visit a dentist.
OMD can also be recognized through dental problems – specifically an improper alignment between the upper and lower teeth, also known as a malocclusion. Overbites and other issues can cause difficulties in biting and chewing food.
A diagnosis of OMD is usually made by a dentist or orthodontist, although a treatment plan may include the participation of a speech-language pathologist, as well.
OMD Therapy – How Can It Help?
Although it may be difficult to believe that an exercise-based therapy can help retrain and strengthen the oral and facial muscles to dramatically improve these disorders, a growing field of professionals have demonstrated such results through orofacial myofunctional therapy.
A trained professional works with patients to evaluate and treat OMDs by gradually training the tongue back into its natural position. Awareness of facial and oral muscles is taught and proper swallowing techniques are demonstrated. A program of exercises is followed – sometimes over a six to twelve-month period in order to promote proper coordination and patterns of muscle movement.
OMD is best treated when caught early, so if you think your child suffers from incorrect oral postures and swallowing issues, see your dentist or doctor right away. Orofacial myofunctional therapy techniques can improve critical speaking, breathing and sleeping capabilities. Don’t underestimate the importance of your tongue!
Think you or a loved one suffers from OMD? Make an appointment today – we can help! TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of The Greater Washington DC Area, located in Alexandria Virginia, provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at capitaltmjcenter.com.
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