Yes, tongue therapy is a thing. The formal name is myofunctional therapy. Whether you’re not sleeping well, snoring, or a mouth breather, almost anyone can benefit from these exercises. Kourt started working with the team at The Breathe Institute to help relax her neck muscles by strengthening her tongue. Sounds a little bizarre, we know, but if you think about it, your tongue is an incredibly strong muscle, and the more you can control and relax it, the better airway health you’ll have (among other benefits too).
Ahead, the lovely TBI team answered all of our myofunctional therapy questions and shared the three daily exercises they assigned to Kourt (watch the video to find out).
What is myofunctional therapy?
“In a nutshell, orofacial myofunctional therapy is a way to optimize the resting position of your tongue, and it has a lot to do with addressing breathing habits.
The Ideal Tongue Position: The entire tongue resting easily against the roof of the mouth, with the tip of the tongue just behind the front teeth. This ideal tongue position naturally enforces healthy nasal breathing. Take a minute and concentrate on how you are breathing throughout the day.
Orofacial myofunctional therapy is a therapeutic program similar to physical therapy. It helps to retrain poor oral habits, from nail-biting to mouth breathing (and more).
The ultimate goal of therapy is to establish strength, coordination, and mobility in the muscles of the face in order to optimize breathing, chewing, swallowing, and speaking functions.
As therapists, we accomplish this by teaching individuals how to engage those muscles most appropriately. It’s really all about restoring normal function. We teach exercises for breathing and for the muscles of the mouth and face.
The power of the therapy comes from understanding that we are teaching our patients what they should be doing naturally and innately from the day they are born—breathing through the nose and resting the tongue on the palate.
Who can benefit from this type of therapy?
The question really is, who wouldn’t benefit from better breathing? Breathing is such a basic, integral function to living! At the end of the day, If you aren’t breathing, you probably aren’t doing much else.
Individuals who predominantly mouth breathe, and/or have restricted tongue mobility, often develop maladaptive habits and patterns of orofacial function that can impact:
• Facial growth and development
• Sleep-disordered breathing, including snoring and sleep apnea
• Nasal obstruction
• Oral hygiene and dental problems
• Teeth grinding (bruxism)
• Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD)
• Neck and shoulder tension/pain
• Premature wrinkles
• Speech problems
Does myofunctional therapy actually change the appearance of the face?
We have over 100 muscles in the head, neck, and face that can work together, as well as independently. The muscles in our face are the only ones that are directly attached to the skin. That is what allows us to smile and frown, and make all our selfie duck-lip faces.
The well-developed muscles in our faces enable us to show surprise, disgust, anger, fear, and other emotions, they are an important means of nonverbal communication.
We have all kinds of gyms and exercise programs designed to tone and train our bodies, but we seem to have forgotten about the muscles that comprise our faces. So many of the same benefits we attribute to exercising the rest of the body can also be achieved in the face, through oral myofunctional therapy.
In fact, in Brazil, many plastic surgeons collaborate with a trained orofacial myofunctional therapist to work with facial muscles. It’s much like how a competent orthopedic surgeon would not perform a knee replacement on someone without prescribing a regimen of physical therapy afterward.
Many times a lip-tie (tight frenum restriction in the upper lip) can contribute to a flattened upper lip appearance. We have seen many cases of fuller lips as a result of an upper lip-tie release when symptoms were indicated.
Also, mouth breathing plays a major factor in guiding growth and development. As Sarah points out in the video, children who mouth breathe will grow into adults who look very different than children who nasal breathe. Of course, environment, genetics, diet, and family traits will also play a role, but in general, mouth-breathing children will become adults with longer faces, narrower palates, ‘gummy’ smiles, flatter facial features, smaller and more retruded mandibles, and other such traits.”
Learn more about The Breathe Institute here.