Updated: Oct 20, 2021
I was sitting with my friend and fellow dental hygienist having our annual Christmas drink meet up when she brought up the topic of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy. That’s all it took for me to find a continuing education course and to no surprise, I was mind blown.
There were so many clinical signs that I never knew were connected to sleep apnea, mouth breathing, the increasing rate of gum disease and cavities, crooked teeth, small jaws and tongue-ties. Once I made that connection from what I was learning, I could not unsee it. I pushed my education further. I pushed my professional relationships to make these connections. I pushed parents and patients to make these connections. I pushed my own mother instincts to make the connections for my own children. These have been some of the most challenging and rewarding connections I have ever made in my 13 year career in the field of dental hygiene and oral health.
There is a powerful systemic connection between the way we breathe, where our tongue sits in our mouth, how our lips rest and how we chew, drink and swallow with the development of our jaws from infancy which then continues to be influenced throughout adulthood.
Nasal Breathing Connection
I wish I could credit this to the original author, but after a million lectures, it becomes hard to track who said what first. Regardless “we should breathe through our mouth as much as we eat through our nose” is a spot on statement. Yes, maybe sometimes we have to use our mouth to breathe but what is important to understand is that we are designed to breathe through our nose and not the mouth. The nose has the amazing ability to warm, sanitize, moisten air before it hits our lungs. The mouth is not designed to do this. Only the nose can create Nitric Oxide, which is key for our immune systems and when produced has been proved to be anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-allergen, and anti-pathogenic.
Tongue Posture & Lip Seal Connection
There is a direct connection between having correct tongue and lip posture from infancy. We will see a positive impact with the way your mouth and face grow, the ability to support efficient and skillful nasal breathing, and your overall health. We want the tongue to rest gently and comfortably in your palate (roof of your mouth), ideally not touching your teeth in any way and certainly not resting on the floor of your mouth. Your lips should be sealed with ease, free of any straining. And lastly, your teeth should just be slightly apart. When this correct tongue-rest posture is not possible, smaller-underdeveloped jaws and facial structures and nasal breathing will be compromised creating a recipe for sleep disordered breathing and/or sleep apnea to develop. With sleep disordered breathing and/or sleep apnea comes a list of systemic health issues like, headaches, TMJ pain, grinding/clenching of the teeth, gingivitis and gum disease, chronic sore throats and cold/allergy symptoms, bad breath, increased risk of dental cavities, chronic fatigue, digestive disturbances, ADHD/ADD symptoms, disruptions in sleep and in adults, lack of proper oxygen concentrations in the blood can cause high blood pressure and heart problems… just to name a few.
A dysfunctional swallow can also be referred to as, a tongue thrust swallow, a reverse swallow, or an immature swallow. However we want to refer to a dysfunctional swallow, we know that by not swallowing correctly, you will absorb more air. This has been linked to digestive issues like stomach pains, acid reflux, and even constipation. A dysfunctional swallow often correlates to a poor tongue-rest posture. A correct, ideal swallow will have the back molar teeth firmly in contact with one another, the tip of the tongue against palate or gum ridges behind the upper front teeth, the tongue up flat against roof of mouth, and the tongue then sliding back with sucking action free of any neck, face or jaw tension.
My hope for this blog is to continue to make these connections for patients and parents and to help other professionals find resources to make the connection to learning like I did. I feel, as dental professionals, we are at the frontline to help recognize these myofunctional dysfunctions. We need to address these dysfunctions from the earliest age, and that starts in the womb. There are so many other professionals that can help us achieve better health, like orthodontists, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, ENTs, lactation specialists, pediatricians and many more. The body has amazing connections that we continue to learn more and more about. One particular field cannot possibly treat it all. Collaboration connections are essential.