Sleep Apnea, TMJ, Or a Bad Bite? Myofunctional Therapy Can Help Children and Adults
By Sarah Faust, RDH and Carrie Samora, RDH
Sleep is one of the most important activities the human body needs in order to function on a daily basis. When someone is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) it means that there is prevention from breathing properly while sleeping. This can include snoring, waking up out of breath, and grinding.
During this sleep fragmentation, the reparative section of the sleep cycle that allows the body to function normally is interrupted. The body tries to obtain oxygen that has been depleted by going into a “fight or flight” response causing the mastication muscles of the jaw to clench or grind together, also known as bruxism. The TMJ (temporomandibular joint) produces stress, sourcing pain and aggravation of the jaw muscles.
Bruxism that occurs during sleep is used as a mechanism to wake the body in order to obtain more oxygen, thus, going through a cycle of fragmented sleep throughout the entire night.
Studies now show that myofunctional therapy can be effective in reducing the severity of OSA. This therapy is a series of exercises and is used to strengthen the tongue and muscles of the face in order to establish proper nasal breathing throughout the night. By correcting tongue position and jaw formation, it allows the airway to open and creates an increase of oxygen in the body. When the exercises are completed on a daily basis, the tongue is able to achieve the proper muscle formation.
You may also hear your dentist or hygienist start to discuss your child’s bite or tooth alignment. A bad bite is when the teeth are crowded, crooked, out of line, or the jaws don’t meet properly. Early treatment may help prevent a bad bite or start to guide your child’s growth to fix a bad bite.
Research is showing just how important a proper bite and dental arch is to a child and adult’s health. We already know that sleep is so important to a child and adult’s health. A bad bite and mouth breathing can severely impact sleep and therefore your child’s health and mental well-being. Sleep disorders can cause behavioral issues and have the same symptoms of ADHD.
So what can you do as a parent? We want to teach our children to breathe through their nose and if they are unable to, seek ways to help them. This can mean a discussion with your child’s pediatrician, allergist, ENT, and dentist. They may look at things like your child’s adenoids, tonsils, and dental arch growth.
There are now appliances that children can wear as young as three years old to help guide their dental arches to grow and provide adequate space for their tongue. Simple muscle exercises can also help by retraining the facial muscles to work as they should.
Another way you can help in the short term is nasal cleaning. At night, have your child blow their nose, spray a saline or xylitol spray, such as X-lear, in each nostril, then apply a breathing strip to their nose. Do this every night for two weeks and observe your child while they are sleeping. They should be sleeping with their lips sealed and breathing only through their nose. You may notice they are sleeping better within the two weeks. Of course compliance can be an issue.
For a better understanding of sleep issues, there are a couple of videos on YouTube that are helpful. The Headgear Effect and Finding Connor Deegan are both great videos for parents to watch. There are also some great videos by myofunctional therapists on YouTube to demonstrate some muscle exercises children can do at home. A favorite to watch is Sarah Hornsby who is a dental hygienist and myofunctional therapist.