Orofacial Myofunctional Dysfunction Primer

Photo by Nasirun Khan

Orofacial myofunctional dysfunction refers to a group of disorders that affect the function of the muscles used in speech, chewing, and swallowing. These disorders can affect the proper growth and development of the jaw, teeth, and facial muscles, and can lead to problems such as open bite, cross bite, and speech difficulties. Some of the most common causes of orofacial myofunctional dysfunction include thumb-sucking, pacifier use, and abnormal swallowing patterns, such as mouth breathing. Lets go over the bolded words in order:

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that many infants and young children engage in, but it can become a problem if it persists beyond the age of 2 years, especially outside the context of a self sooth for sleeping. Prolonged thumb sucking consequences are :

  1. Dental problems: Thumb sucking can lead to the misalignment of teeth, an open bite, or protrusion of the front teeth, which can affect the child’s bite and speech.
  2. Speech problems: Thumb sucking can also affect speech development, causing lisping or difficulty pronouncing certain sounds.
  3. Social problems: Children who continue to suck their thumbs beyond the age of 4-5 years may become self-conscious or be teased by peers, which can lead to social anxiety or low self-esteem.
  4. Skin problems: Thumb sucking can cause calluses, blisters, or infections on the thumb or fingers.

Pacifier use, contributes to:

  1. Increased risk of middle ear infections: Pacifier use may increase the risk of middle ear infections in young children, although this risk is generally lowest from birth to age 6 months when the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is highest [1].
  2. Dental problems: Prolonged pacifier use can lead to dental problems, including misaligned teeth, open bite, crossbite, or other malocclusions, which can affect the child’s bite and speech [2][3].
  3. Negative effect on breastfeeding: Pacifier use, particularly in the early weeks of life, may interfere with establishing and maintaining breastfeeding, which is important for the health and development of the infant [3].

My suggestion is to get rid of it as soon as they learn how to begin sucking their thumb. The longer you keep them with it, the harder it will be to take it away.

Mouth breathing deserves its own segment but for now lets talk about these 4 points:

  1. Low oxygen concentration in the blood: Mouth breathing can result in a lower oxygen concentration in the blood, which is associated with high blood pressure and heart failure [1].
  2. Bad breath: Mouth breathing affects saliva flow, which can lead to bad breath and drooling on pillows [2].
  3. Malocclusion: Mouth breathing can cause malocclusion, a condition where the upper and lower teeth do not align properly. Children who mouth breathe can have more severe symptoms [2].
  4. Sleep problems: Mouth breathing can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep, which can have a serious impact on overall health. It can also weaken the muscles in the throat, which can lead to snoring or sleep apnea [3].

Treatment for orofacial myofunctional dysfunction typically includes exercises to strengthen the affected muscles, as well as changes in diet and habits to promote proper muscle function. Watch Rebecca go over a couple of the exercises here. If you have any questions about what I went over reach out to us!

– Israel Montano