What is Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder?

Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder, or OMD, refers to abnormal, adaptive patterns that develop in the place of typical patterns within the tongue, lips, jaw, and facial muscles. Concerned about tongue thrust? It’s important to fully assess what’s going on so you can pursue the most effective treatment. Schedule a free introductory call with us here at Great Speech to discuss your communication goals and the best program available to help. 

When at rest, the tongue has a specific position within the mouth. The tongue also has a specific swallow pattern. OMDs occur when the tongue develops a different resting position within the mouth, often referred to as tongue thrust. The continued presence of these atypical tongue positions, swallowing patterns, and movements can often result in a variety of issues and challenges, most notably being the development of an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder. An OMD can be a major contributing factor when it comes to the development and progression of lisps and other speech issues or impediments.

Generally speaking, OMD’s are primarily defined and identified as a lack or absence of nasal breathing and can affect both adults and children. This can also be directly related to an articulation disorder. Virtual speech therapy is an excellent resource and tool to help someone who has an OMD and is struggling to speak clearly and precisely. Our speech therapy program works almost like physiotherapy for the mouth, helping the muscles and organs to learn and practice new patterns of movement and to encourage a more “normal” resting position for the tongue. 

Indications & Concerns

Orofacial Myofunctional disorder symptoms can vary significantly from case to case. The most notable of these is the development and presence of mouth breathing as opposed to breathing through the nose. Some of the other things to look for when identifying or diagnosing an OMD are:

  • LispA lisp refers to the difficulty pronouncing or clearly articulating certain letter sounds. The most common and widely known is a lisp that presents as the inability to create ‘S’ or ‘Z’ sounds, with the resulting effort sounding more like a “th” sound. This type of lisp is known as a frontal lisp.
  • Speech is difficult to understand in General – In some cases, someone affected by an OMD may struggle with other speech sounds. These challenges may exist on their own or in addition to a frontal lisp.
  • Dental issuesOne of the most recognizable signs that an OMD may be present is the presence of dental abnormalities such as an open bite or significant overbite. Some of the other dental issues that are linked to OMD’s are abnormal development of the teeth and dental arch in general, cosmetic issues that may affect self-esteem such as malocclusion or misalignment of the teeth, and difficulty with denture fittings later in life.
  • Difficulties with EatingIn some cases, those affected by an OMD may struggle with eating and drinking. OMD’s affect the ability to swallow appropriately and correctly. This can result in prolonged meal times and significant spillage of food and liquid from the mouth. Noisy eating and chewing can also be an issue.
  • Development of Mouth BreathThis is the most commonly noted factor in OMD’s. When nasal breathing is affected or impeded in some way, the body naturally reacts and adapts to ensure that enough oxygen is making its way into the lungs. The long-term effects of breathing through the mouth can be significant and severe, often resulting in changes to the resting placement of the lips, tongue, and jaw.

What causes tongue thrust? How is a tongue thrust diagnosed?

It is not always clear what the cause is of an OMD, and in many cases, the disorder is caused by a variety of factors. An Orofacial Myofunctional disorder may be diagnosed by a doctor or pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist, or a speech-language pathologist. Speech challenges such as tongue thrust are serious, and if an effective speech therapy program is not followed, they can become worse. Schedule a free introductory call with Great Speech today, and we’ll make sure you or your loved one makes consistent progress. Most experts agree that OMD’s are the result of one or a combination of several factors. The most common of these are: 

  • Upper Airway Constriction – In many cases, the absence or inability to breathe through the nose is caused by frequent or unresolved infections in the upper respiratory system or other constrictions or obstructions such as chronic nasal congestion or a deviated septum.
  • Improper Habits – Prolonged use of items such as pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups can contribute to the development of an OMD. Other habits such as thumb or finger sucking, biting or chewing nails and/or cuticles, sucking on the tongue, lips, or cheeks, or teeth clenching/grinding can be significant factors as well.
  • Physical or Structural Abnormalities – In some cases, an OMD is caused by a physiological difference such as a lip/tongue tie or a low lying, forward position of the tongue.
  • Genetic Predisposition – For some people affected by an OMD, genetics can be a contributing factor. The shape and structure of the cranial bones, jaw, and teeth as well as inherited health issues such as seasonal allergies can certainly contribute to the development or progression of an OMD.
  • Developmental Delay – Sometimes an OMD is related to a developmental difference related to disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy.

What does Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Mean?
Can Myofunctional Therapy change your Face?

The course of treatment when working with someone affected by an OMD can vary greatly, and depends heavily on the identified or suspected cause. In most cases, improving or correcting an OMD is a team effort. This team typically consists of one, several, or all of the following specialists: Orthodontist, Certified Orofacial Myologist, Dentist and Dental Hygienist, highly specialized speech therapist or pathologist, and an otorhinolaryngologist (also known as an ENT specialist.) 

One thing is for certain, regardless of the root cause of an OMD, speech therapy (and virtual services, like Great Speech) is an integral and invaluable component on the road to improving and in some cases correcting and reversing the impediments and deficits related to Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders. The goals of our virtual speech therapy program when working with someone with an OMD usually reflect the specific challenges of each person. Generally speaking, your speech therapist will focus on improving the resting postures of both the tongue and facial muscles, correcting chewing and swallowing patterns, establishing nasal breathing patterns, and helping with speech sound production.

Your Great Speech therapist will also provide Orofacial Myofunctional therapy exercises to practice and work on at home, outside of scheduled therapy appointments. Practicing and working on these exercises daily will help to improve and strengthen the affected muscles, and is vital to the effectiveness of speech therapy. Your Great Speech therapist will help to establish a daily routine and schedule to ensure these exercises can be practiced regularly. Speech therapy can also be used to help stabilize the teeth before, during, or after orthodontic or jaw correction surgery. When these procedures work effectively with speech therapy, they can be very successful and can often reverse the lengthened appearance of the face caused by an OMD.

If you or someone you love is affected by an Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder, help and support are available. At Great Speech, we can connect you with a speech therapist on our team who is highly specialized and experienced in the area of OMD’s. Visit our Get Started page and begin your journey with Great Speech today!

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