What is myofunctional therapy (MFT)?
Orofacial myofunctional disorders are the disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. The disorders may affect facial skeletal growth, chewing, swallowing, speech, oral hygiene, sleeping and more. Myofunctional therapy is a program of specific exercises that target these facial muscles that are used to chew and swallow. They are designed to strengthen the muscles and tongue and improve speech in the patient.
What are the symptoms of orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMD)?
Some symptoms of OMD may include:
- difficulty breathing through the nose
- limited tongue movement
- an overbite, underbite and other dental problems
- difficulty saying some sounds like ‘s’ or ‘j’
- difficulty closing the lips when trying to swallow
What causes orofacial myofunctional disorders?
There are several factors that could cause OMD. These include blocked nasal passages because of allergies or the size of the tonsils, anything that causes the tongue to be misplaced when at rest, or sucking and chewing habits past the age of a toddler.
What kind of specialist uses myofunctional therapy?
The professionals who treat orofacial myofunctional disorders include:
- a dentist
- an orthodontist
- a doctor
- a speech-language therapist
Why is myofunctional therapy done?
The oropharynx includes the mouth and throat and is lined with muscular tissues. These muscles allow us to eat, talk, breathe and keep the airway open when sleeping. If these muscles are weak, they disrupt the flow of air. This can cause snoring, or airways to become blocked if the tube collapses. This occurs during sleep apnoea. A weak tongue may also fall back into the throat and cause an obstruction.
Myofunctional therapy aims to strengthen the muscles within the oropharynx, and the tongue. It also reinforces the correct position of the tongue within the mouth. The therapy is also used to improve breathing problems during sleep and is an alternative treatment for sleep apnoea. Dentists and orthodontists use it when they are concerned about the movement of teeth when the tongue pushes against the teeth.
What does myofunctional therapy consist of?
Myofunctional therapy does not include the use of medications but relies upon exercises. These can be done at home and can be used by children age 6 plus. The exercises should be repeated 10 times and the sets should be done a minimum of four times a day. The techniques have to be performed for two years to have maximum effect.
An example exercise would be to ‘push up the tongue’. The tip of the tongue is to be placed against the hard palate on the roof of the mouth, behind the top teeth. It is then recommended to push upwards and hold for five seconds. This should be repeated ten times. This is just one example of many techniques used.
A speech-language therapist can also help the patient to pay closer attention to their mouth and facial movements and to learn where their tongue and mouth muscles are. They can help the patient to say sounds more clearly and to practice breathing patterns. The way the patient chews and swallows can also be changed.