Orofacial Habits:

Habits of the mouth and face

What are orofacial habits?

The term “orofacial” refers to the mouth and face and “orofacial habits” refers to those habits that involve the mouth or face.  As with any habit, orofacial habits can become dysfunctional.  When this occurs, the form and function of the muscles of the mouth and face can be adversely affected along with the airway, breathing patterns, posture and the musculoskeletal system as a whole. 

When you sign up for our newsletter you can instantly download a checklist of the signs, symptoms and conditions associated with dysfunctional orofacial habits to help with early detection.  The earlier dysfunctional orofacial habits are detected, the earlier they can be addressed to prevent longer-term damage from occurring.

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Does your child have any of the following orofacial habits: chronic mouth breathing, thumb sucking, tongue thrust or tongue-tie?

At The Breathing Clinic we are passionate about educating parents about the effect of orofacial habits so that parents can take proactive steps to address these habits before they affect their child’s orofacial development.

Most parents are not aware that oral habits like mouth breathing, tongue-tie and non-nutritive sucking habits (e.g. thumb sucking, finger sucking, dummy sucking and tongue sucking) affect tongue posture inside the mouth.  More specifically, these habits can cause a “low tongue resting posture”, which means the tongue sits low in the mouth rather than assuming its natural resting position against the roof of the mouth behind the top teeth.  A low tongue resting posture can have a profound effect on the growth and development of a child’s oral cavity and upper airway if this habit continues over a prolonged period of time.  For example:

  • When the tongue sits low in the mouth it cannot exert its natural outward pressure to counteract the inward pressure of the muscles of the face.  Over time, the inward pressure of the facial muscles causes the upper jaw to become V-shaped (rather than being U-shaped).  This has the effect of reducing the space available for the teeth to properly and fully erupt leading to crowded, crooked, misaligned teeth.
  • Mouth breathing and non-nutritive sucking habits can also lead to retraction of the lower jaw, which means the lower jaw sits back from its natural resting position.  This means the base of the tongue (which attaches to the lower jaw) also sits back in the throat more than it should.  This can predispose children to snoring and sleep apnoea, especially in a supine position i.e. when resting on the back.  A retracted lower jaw may also create problems for the temporomandibular joint, which joins the upper and lower jaws near the ear.  This can lead to impingement of the Eustachian tubes, which extend from the oral cavity to the inner ears causing hearing problems.
  • When the upper jaw becomes V-shaped (rather than being U-shaped), this can cause the roof of the mouth (palatal arch) to become high and narrow.  The roof of the mouth also forms the base of the nasal cavity, and when the roof of the mouth becomes high and narrow this can affect the size and shape of the nasal cavity, which can lead to problems with sinus drainage and airflow, making nasal breathing more difficult and causing or reinforcing mouth breathing.
  • These changes can also lead to poor lip seal, and may compromise the proper, natural movement of the tongue leading to difficulty eating, chewing and swallowing food or liquid.  Speech and articulation can also be affected by poor control of the shape and movement of the tongue. 
  • Tongue-tie, which is technically known as “ankyloglossia” can also affect the ability of infants to breast feed.  Tongue-tie is where the tissue under the tongue is too tight or too short and thereby restricts movement of the tongue.  In newborn babies tongue-tie can make breast-feeding difficult because the baby cannot latch onto the breast properly.  This can cause sore nipples and some mums may abandon breast-feeding because of this.  If an infant continues breast-feeding but has poor weight gain, this may be an indicator of tongue-tie.  Other signs of tongue-tie in newborns include excessive drooling, constipation, vomiting, reflux and difficulty settling.  Tongue-tie can be easily checked, so it is a good idea to discuss this with your Paediatrician, and if necessary, refer to an Orofacial Myologist for assessment. 

At The Breathing Clinic & Wellness Centre we offer public information sessionsto illustrate the effects of oral habits (when they are chronic or prolonged), to help parents make informed decisions about their children’s health and wellbeing before these habits lead to more serious problems requiring medical or orthodontic intervention.

What orofacial habits should parents look for?

It is important that parents identify oral habits early so preventative action can be taken to discontinue the habits before adverse effects take form and adversely affect a child’s orofacial function.  These habits include:

  • Chronic mouth breathing;
  • Thumb sucking, finger sucking, tongue sucking;
  • Tongue thrusting at rest or when speaking, chewing or swallowing leading to imprecise articulation and/or messy eating habits.

A more detailed list of orofacial habits can be downloaded free when you sign up for The Breathing Clinic & Wellness Centre newsletter:

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Our services are all about restoring natural, healthy oral habits and healthy efficient breathing patterns to support our clients’ best health and wellbeing.  At The Breathing Clinic & Wellness Centre we offer a range of programmes to help children restore healthy breathing patterns and discontinue sucking habits like thumb sucking, finger sucking, tongue sucking, dummy sucking, lip sucking and cheek sucking.  Where necessary, The Breathing Clinic refers clients to other healthcare professionals including dental professionals, Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists and other medical practitioners. 

For more details see Stop Sucking Habits Programmes and Breathing Retaining Programmes or enquire about our programmes today.

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