Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders (OMDs): Can they Impact Speech, Swallowing, and Dentition? 

Orofacial Myofunctional
By: Red Door Pediatric Therapy Staff


Swallowing is a natural process that most people don’t even think about. However, some people may develop incorrect swallow patterns, which can lead to speech, orthodontic, and/or dental problems. If you, or your child, have been told that you are swallowing incorrectly and you notice this is affecting your speech and/or teeth, you may be experiencing an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD).

OMDs are disorders that affect the muscles and functions of the face and mouth, including the way you swallow. The most common OMDs include tongue thrust, open mouth resting posture, and improper chewing and swallowing patterns.
If you have an incorrect swallow pattern, you may be swallowing with your tongue in the incorrect position. Instead of pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth, your tongue may be pressing against your teeth or protruding between your teeth during swallowing. This can cause your teeth to shift or move, leading to dental problems such as malocclusion or bite problems.  If you are a parent, you may notice that your child might also present with some of these same behaviors.
Incorrect swallowing can affect speech. You note difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, especially “s,” “z,” “sh,” and “ch.” This is because the incorrect swallow pattern can cause the tongue to push forward, making it more difficult to form these sounds.

Here are three simple ways that may indicate the presence of orofacial myofunctional disorders or an incorrect swallow pattern. If you suspect you have any issues, it’s essential to consult with a qualified professional such as a dentist, speech language pathologist, orofacial myologist,, or orthodontist, for a proper evaluation and diagnosis. These professionals can provide personalized assessments and recommendations. Here are three common indicators:

Tongue Posture Observation:

  • Stand in front of a mirror and observe your resting tongue posture. In a correct resting tongue posture, the tongue should rest against the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. The tip of the tongue should not press against the front teeth or sit low in the mouth.
  • An incorrect resting tongue posture may involve the tongue resting low in the mouth, between or against the teeth. This position can lead to various orofacial issues and dental problems.

Swallowing Pattern Examination:

  • Take a sip of water and observe your swallowing pattern. The normal swallowing pattern, known as the “swallowing reflex,” should involve the tongue pressing against the roof of the mouth to push food or liquid to the back of the throat before swallowing.
  • An incorrect swallowing pattern, known as “tongue thrust” or “reverse swallow,” involves the tongue pushing forward against the front teeth during the swallowing process. This improper technique can cause dental malocclusions and other issues.

Mouth Breathing Assessment:

  • Pay attention to how you breathe throughout the day. Breathing primarily through the nose is the natural and healthy way to breathe, as it helps filter and humidify the air.
  • Chronic mouth breathing, especially during rest or sleep, can indicate potential airway or orofacial issues. Mouth breathing can impact the development of facial structures, cause dry mouth, and lead to orofacial myofunctional disorders.
Remember, these observations are not conclusive diagnoses but potential signs that may warrant further evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional. Consulting with a specialist is crucial for accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment if necessary. The therapists in our Beulah location can answer questions you may have regarding swallowing and breathing.  Our other locations provide these services also!  They may perform comprehensive evaluations, including speech assessments, oral examinations, and relevant medical history reviews, to provide a more definitive diagnosis and appropriate treatment options.