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Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) is neurological re-education exercises to assist normalization of the developing, or developed, craniofacial structures and function. It is related to the prevention and treatment of functional and structural alterations in the region of the mouth (oro) and face (facial).
OMT can improve behaviors related to breathing, sucking, chewing, swallowing and speech. OMT can establish oral habits that can ultimately correct the position of the lips, cheeks and tongue (restoring the proper oral rest posture). The three most common reasons OMT is recommended is to correct tongue thrust, treat thumb sucking, and complement orthodonic treatment.
With a tongue thrust, the tongue moves forward in an exaggerated way during speech and/or swallowing. The tongue may lie too far forward during rest or may protrude between the upper and lower teeth during speech and swallowing, and at rest.
Although a "tongue thrust" swallow is normal in infancy, it usually decreases and disappears as a child grows. If the tongue thrust continues, a child may look, speak, and swallow differently than other children of the same age. Older children may become self-conscious about their appearance.
Thumb sucking can lead to abnormal tongue rest and functional patterns, altered respiration, and an open rest posture of the lips. The thumb or finger can anchor the tongue down and forward instead of allowing the tongue to rest in the proper position on the roof of the mouth.
The facial muscles utilized in chewing, swallowing, and speech constitute an important part of the foundation upon which speech is constructed. When the thumb anchors the tongue down and forward and serves to reinforce an incorrect rest posture of the tongue, an inaccurate and inappropriate spring-off point for speech sound production occurs. When a sucking habit occurs in two or more settings, this defines the sucking behavior as a chronic habit. The constant sucking behavior with the tongue remaining low and forward and the freeway space remaining opened for hours per day with a disruption of the dental equilibrium leads to many possible changes involving the orofacial structure, malocclusions, speech problems, and abnormal tongue patterns.
Dentists and orthodontists are concerned with the effects of the tongue and facial muscles on the occlusion (how teeth fit together) of teeth because of the evidence proving that too much tongue pressure against the teeth on the inside and an unequal amount of facial muscle pressure from the outside – as is the case with a tongue thrust swallow and/or incorrect tongue resting posture – may result in a malocclusion or misalignment of the teeth – the resting posture of the tongue and facial muscles play an even more vital role: If the tongue is constantly resting against the front teeth and the upper lip in short or flaccid (weak and flabby), the front teeth will be pushed forward.
Thus, correcting this tongue thrust using special speech techniques will play a crucial role in any good orthodontic treatment, making the treatment’s results long lasting and much easier to achieve.