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From thumb sucking to better sleep: How orofacial myology could help your kids (and you)

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What do snoring, sleep apnoea and thumb-sucking have in common? Orofacial myology can help with all of them.

Orofacial myology is certainly a mouthful – pun intended – because this is the science of how your mouth functions along with your face, and yes, everyone should know about it.

Why? Because anyone who has had an issue with their mouth will tell you, it’s a pretty essential part of our body to have functioning correctly and can impact your life in more ways than you realise.

As a Registered Dental Hygienist Jaimee Stakelum has gotten up close and personal with quite a few mouths (read: thousands) and seen first-hand how incorrectly functioning facial muscles and jaws can impact growing children and ultimately people’s long-term health.

“I worked primarily in a specialist orthodontic practice for most of my career and working in orthodontics you see a lot of severe issues – like jaws that don’t develop well – and you can’t help but ask yourself ‘why?’”, says Jaimee.

Becoming interested in breathing and airway development, Jaimee attended a lecture from an American orthodontist focused on orofacial myofunctional therapy and realised she had found the holistic, early-intervention approach she had been looking for.

Now operating Happy Faces Orofacial Myology in Fraser as a trained Orofacial Myologist, Jaimee treats patients of all ages – from babies to adults – for a variety of concerns that can have life-changing results.

So, what exactly is this mouthful of a science? We asked Jaimee to give us the lowdown.

What is orofacial myology?

“Basically, orofacial myology is the science of the function of the oral and facial muscles. When we talk about function, we look at correct function as well as incorrect function, and we need to know if something’s not functioning well, what kind of impact is that going to have?”

“Our treatments focus on rehabilitation or facilitating correct oral function and harmonious muscle movement.”

Who can it help?

“I think the youngest child I’ve done an assessment on was a seven-month-old, and the oldest person I’ve done an assessment for was 65,” she smiles. “Oral function has an impact in various ways at various stages of the lifespan so it’s always relevant.”

“Most commonly I find adults coming to see me because they have issues with snoring or sleep apnoea which can be linked to your tongue not sitting in the right spot when you’re asleep or the muscles of your throat and tongue not being toned, so they’re more likely to collapse when you’re asleep and block the flow of air.”

“I also have a surprising number of adults who have a lot of issues with jaw, neck or facial tension, and they can’t find lasting help so they start going down the rabbit hole that is Dr. Google which leads them to the topic of tongue tie and then they want to come in and talk to me about whether they have a tongue tie that was undiagnosed.”

“For children, it’s things like mouth breathing, snoring or orofacial myofunctional disorders, which are quite common in children who also have issues with speech – orofacial myology and speech pathology work really well together.”

Jaimee adds that childhood oral habits can also have an impact on adults and orofacial myology can help correct or address these.

“You might have had a habit of sucking fingers or having a dummy for a long time which impacts how the oral muscles function… these muscles play a role in growth so as people get older, you can start to see small jaws with crooked and crowded teeth. The underlying issue is the incorrect muscular function which often goes unaddressed, but often presents itself in adulthood as jaw and facial tension or snoring”.

How exactly does it work? What do treatments look like?

“The treatments are exercise-based and are prescribed to improve strength and awareness and coordination of the muscles. We retrain bad habits from thumb sucking or finger sucking and retrain resting position of the lips and the tongue. There is actually a correct resting position for the tongue and lips.”

When should parents seek a consultation for their kids?

“Parents might see a range of concerns and I think the good thing about the internet and social media is just how parents are more educated in general these days,” says Jaimee.

“I tend to find my appointment books kind of come and go in waves as to what’s really popular – I’ll see an influx of thumb suckers and then a couple of months later, it’ll all be mouth breathers, and that seems to be the prominent thing at the moment; mouth breathing. Parents are becoming more aware that mouth breathing is not normal and can be a health issue.”

Jaimee also wants Happy Faces to be a welcoming and caring haven for parents – one that is focused on solutions and not judgment.

“Having a child with a habit like thumb sucking can be super stressful for families. I see parents who have tried all of the things that the internet tells them to do on their own at home, but their kids just keep sucking, and these parents know that oral habits can have a massive impact on how the jaw, face and the teeth develop.”

“It’s important for parents to understand that there is help out there as well. They don’t have to go through the stress of trying to manage it on their own at home.”

How could orofacial myology help improve quality of life in adults?

“If you’re not sleeping well because you have an issue like snoring or sleep apnoea which can be linked to oral muscle tone and oral resting posture, addressing the underlying cause is going to help you to sleep better and sleep is just crucial, right? We all know that.”

“Prioritising your sleep is going to have dramatic impacts on your overall function, your ability to get your work done and your mental and physical wellbeing.”

Jaimee also encourages adults who suffer from chronic jaw and facial discomfort to consider whether orofacial myology could help them.

“If you’re someone who is living with discomfort, it can have a real impact on your ability to function day to day and your mental health as well. Dealing with chronic pain or chronic discomfort can have a massive impact on your mental health.”

Want to learn more about orofacial myology? Visit happyfacesom.com.au

 

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