Integrative Dentistry: Muscle Function and Oral Health

A man with a beard works with a myofunctinal therapist to address orofacial muscle deficiencies

Muscle function plays a crucial role in maintaining oral health, yet its significance often goes unnoticed in traditional dental care. Research highlights the connection between muscle function and various oral health conditions, including sleep-disordered breathing, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, malocclusion, and more. Understanding the role of muscle function in these conditions is essential for providing comprehensive care to patients. The muscle function of tongue posture, swallowing and breathing patterns and the collaborative efforts between dentists and orofacial myofunctional therapists to prevent and treat a variety of oral and overall health issues.

The Role of Muscle Function in Oral Health

Muscles within the oral cavity are responsible for a multitude of functions, ranging from chewing and swallowing to speech and facial expressions. Among these muscles, the tongue holds particular significance due to its involvement in various oral functions and its influence on the development and maintenance of oral structures. Proper tongue posture, which involves resting the tongue against the roof of the mouth, is crucial for supporting the dental arches and promoting proper alignment of the teeth and jaws.

Swallowing and breathing patterns also impact oral health. Dysfunctional swallowing patterns, such as tongue thrusting, exert abnormal forces on the teeth, leading to malocclusion and TMJ disorders over time. Similarly, mouth breathing, often associated with obstructed nasal passages or sleep-disordered breathing, can alter facial growth and development, resulting in narrow dental arches and crowded teeth.

Because of this intricate relationship between muscle function and oral health, we have an orofacial myofunctional therapist (OMT) on staff at Santa Teresa Smiles—Susana Sexaur. OMTs specialize in assessing and treating disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth, offering interventions aimed at optimizing muscle function and promoting oral health.

Examples of Treatment options for Health Issues

Sleep-disordered breathing, like obstructive sleep apnea interventions may include:

  • Improving tongue posture
  • Correcting dysfunctional swallowing patterns
  • Promoting nasal breathing

TMJ disorders and malocclusion interventions may include:

  • Exercises and techniques to retrain oral muscles
  • Alleviation of muscle tension
  • Restoration of proper function of the temporomandibular joint

The goal of this integrated approach is to bring symptomatic relief while addressing underlying causes to promote long term well being. Complex health issues or those undergoing orthodontic treatment can achieve optimal health outcomes with the addition of orofacial myofunctional therapy. Understanding the interplay between muscle function and oral health is essential for providing comprehensive care to patients. By collaborating with orofacial myofunctional therapists, we can address underlying muscle imbalances and dysfunctional habits, promoting optimal oral health outcomes and improving the overall well-being for our patients.