What is it?
Has someone recommended myofunctional therapy to you and you have no idea what it means? Well, you aren’t alone. Hopefully I can explain more about it and where it comes from so you can make the decision to explore myofunctional therapy for your own health. Have you ever heard that ‘motion is lotion’ or ‘movement is medicine’? What about ‘learning through play’ or ‘form follows function?’ These are all ideas that moving muscles leads to changes in the body that support good function as part of a larger system – the body. Orofacial Myology is essentially nothing different than that. Basically ‘oro’ means mouth, ‘facial’ is face and ‘myology’ is the study of muscles. It’s a specific focus on the group of muscles that make up the face, mouth, jaws and head. It might sound weird or crazy but it’s just a specific focus on an area of the body that can create problems when it’s not functioning well. It’s nothing crazy, just normal, healthy function. Normal is continuous and easy nasal breathing, lips comfortably sealed at rest, tongue resting lightly suctioned to the roof of the mouth and swallowing correctly. When this happens, we breathe well, we sleep well, we can speak and chew with ease, children grow properly and we can live without orofacial pain.
Where I began?
Orofacial Myology is not a qualification in its own right but more of a modality. It’s an area of special interest for those already qualified to work with the body and specifically the mouth. Traditionally, dental hygienists and speech pathologists have been the professionals to pursue further study in this field. My colleagues throughout Australia often discuss why this work is so important; we all want to better help our patients. We see the issues people are experiencing as a result of a functional muscle problem on a daily basis. As a health professional that has experienced both the satisfaction of helping people achieve dental health and also someone who has been disillusioned by the limitations of traditional clinical practice, I too started with a four-day introductory course in orofacial myology. That’s approaching ten years ago now and I can’t see working in my professional career without it. You can’t unsee these problems. A four-day course is an introduction to a world of learning, science, collaboration and exploration. Like I said before, orofacial myology is an area of study and because of its complexities, learning never ends. Over the years I have studied multiple areas within orofacial myology and really learned that focusing on individual issues and a collaborative approach works best. I have come a long way from a standard program and this has been through years of courses, reading, applying, testing and discussion. My time and financial input to continuing education has been huge and perhaps even obsessive. I love what I do.
So why have you never heard of it?
If we consider how far the dental profession has come in the past one hundred years, this is part of the evolution of preventive dentistry. If you consider that not even a hundred years ago a woman who was wealthy would have all her healthy teeth removed and replaced by a set of dentures as her 21st birthday present. People would place honey on a child’s dummy for soothing which would rot their teeth because oral health advice wasn’t there. There was no infection control, no masks or gloves and needles were re-sheathed. Dentists were trained in ‘extension for prevention’ restorative techniques where they would make fillings unnecessarily larger to prevent more decay. The early days had no local anaesthetic, they used ether instead. I’ve also heard much older stories that dentistry started in a barber shop; I don’t know if this is true. You could have your hair cut and your teeth pulled. No wonder people feared the dentist.
Dentistry has come a long way since then and we have incredible advancements in technology, techniques, materials, instruments and patient comfort and care. We have brilliant minds in research and absolute wizardry when it comes to what skilled professionals can do. I believe myofunctional therapy is part of the evolutionary future. It’s forward thinking, it can be both preventive and non-invasive treatment, and it’s now finally backed by science. To be honest myofunctional therapy has been applied since the 70’s but we just didn’t have the evidence in published studies. There are reports in the literature, particularly about nasal breathing that date back to the 1800’s. The difference now is that there are multiple institutions around the world dedicating their research to myofunctional sciences. Even South Australia’s own Flinders University is conducting research on myofunctional science for sleep in their world-renowned sleep lab. Myofunctional therapy is the future of preventive dentistry. It just takes time to filter through. There will be scepticism and there are non-believers. Anything new often begins with disbelief but give it time and the information will filter through. Other areas of this evolutionary movement include research into fascial pain science, microbiome, vitamin therapies and preventive orthodontics. Apparently, scientists have even grown new teeth in lab rats. For me, my passion lays in myofunctional sciences and I am proud to be representing this field in Adelaide. I truly believe the body has the ability to heal when it has the right conditions so remember motion is lotion and movement is medicine.
Here’s to the future, cheers!