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Treating Sleep Apnea with Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy Written By: Dr. Ankita Shah, November 2021

Tongue Tie

Can sleep apnea be treated with oral Myofunctional therapy? The answer is yes, it can be. However, not many people are aware of this non-invasive and inexpensive treatment. Myofunctional therapy is proven to be an excellent alternative for treating sleep apnea compared to continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or even surgery. Apart from helping treat sleep apnea, this therapy is also used to treat some other conditions in children and adults, like:

Mouth breathing

Orofacial pain

Posture correction

Facial aesthetics

Headaches

Tongue thrusting

Noisy Breathing

Snoring

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain

Neck, shoulder and back pain

Before and after Tongue Tie Release

Below let’s check out the reasons why you should choose orofacial Myofunctional therapy to treat sleep apnea. Plus, how an experienced therapist can help you strengthen and retrain the orofacial muscles to work more efficiently, facilitating better eating, sleeping, and breathing.

A] What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep disorders are grouped based on their behaviour, breathing problems, problems with the natural sleep-wake cycle, difficulty in sleeping, or how sleepy a person feels during the day. Central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea are the two types of sleep apnea.

In central sleep apnea, the brain fails to send signals to the muscles to breathe. It is not caused by blockage, and this type of sleep apnea is not commonly found.

In obstructive sleep apnea, the airway is blocked when the soft tissues collapse (naturally) while sleeping.

Some of the obstructive sleep apnea symptoms in children and adults are:

Habitual snoring and noisy breathing

Open mouth posture

Deep and narrow upper jaw

Retruded lower jaw or crowded teeth

Bruxism i.e. clenching

Early morning headaches

Daytime sleepiness

Lack of attention and concentration

Diagnosed as ADHD

Moody or bullying behaviour

Hyperactivity or irritability

Bedwetting or childhood obesity

Observe for restless sleep i.e. tossing in bed

Abnormal sleep positions

Frequent Tonsils and Adenoids

Frequent cold, cough and allergies

B] What is Myofunctional Therapy?

Oral Myofunctional Therapy is a highly effective mouth and tongue exercise program that involves training & strengthening the tongue and orofacial muscles. It teaches individuals how to use and tone the muscles to achieve basic functions like swallowing and nasal breathing. To put it simply, it corrects the improper functions of facial muscles and the tongue and improves oral habits. The benefits of orofacial Myofunctional therapy are:

Continuous nasal breathing

Strengthen Orofacial muscles

Proper tongue position and oral rest posture

Pre/post-operative myofunctional therapy

Stabilised the TMJ/ Jaw Joint

Correct swallowing

Sealed lips

C] Why Choose Myofunctional Therapy for Sleep Apnea?

Myofunctional therapy helps strengthen and tone muscles of throat, soft palate and tongue which can reduce the symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing and improve mild to moderate OSA. It can also prevent a relapse of sleep apnea post-surgical treatment. When it comes to sleep apnea treatment options, Myofunctional therapy is highly recommended because:

1. It is Non-invasive: For those suffering from sleep apnea, the risks that develop from surgical complications are high. Hence, it is better to select a non-invasive sleep apnea treatment such as Myofunctional therapy, which is a physical exercise program used to improve nasal breathing and correct posture by re-patterning the head, face, tongue and neck muscles.

2. It Treats Multiple Problems: Besides sleep apnea, Myofunctional therapy can also be used to treat other conditions such as:

TMJ

Teeth Clenching and Grinding

Speech disorders

Recovery from tongue tie

Difficulty in chewing or eating food

Lips don’t stay close

Orthodontic problems

While other sleep apnea treatments focus only on treating sleep apnea, oral Myofunctional therapy can simultaneously resolve other conditions.

3. It Helps Establish Healthy Lifetime Habits: Sleep apnea treatment like CPAP only benefits a person for as long as they keep using it. If you start using a CPAP machine (sleep apnea device), you would have to use it for the rest of your life.

Whereas, Myofunctional therapy can help you establish healthy sleeping habits that can improve your health for a lifetime. It can help decrease the severity of sleep apnea and improve breathing problems caused during sleep. It can help decrease snoring and daytime sleepiness. It can also be used alongside CPAP therapy to improve the compliance of patients with CPAP machines.

The best part, when Myofunctional therapy is combined with Breath Retraining, it can help:

Establish nasal breathing

Improve your ability to move oral muscles properly

Straighten teeth

Balance moods, leading to clearer thinking

Improve facial symmetry

Increase the tone & mobility of oral structures

Correct the use of oral structures (tongue, lip and cheek muscles). This will help improve breathing, swallowing, suction and chewing.

4. It Works Alongside other Treatments: This is another benefit of using Myofunctional therapy. It will not interfere with your CPAP or other oral appliance therapy. Also, since the entire treatment is planned step-by-step under the guidance of an experienced therapist, you can be assured of optimal results.

D] Myofunctional Therapy Exercises for Sleep Apnea

For best results, it is recommended that Myofunctional therapy exercises for sleep apnea be performed under the supervision of a certified and experienced specialist.

Some of the commonly used exercises are:

Exercise 1: Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, behind the top teeth. Push upwards and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Exercise 2: Stick your tongue out and try to either reach the tip of your nose or chin. Hold each position for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Exercise 3: Stick your tongue out and move it to the right (as far as you can). Hold it for 10 seconds, then relax. Do the same for the left side. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Exercise 4: Roll your tongue over to look like a taco shell by folding the edges towards the middle. Stick it out (as far as you can) and hold the position for 10 seconds, then relax. Do this exercise 10 times.

Exercise 5: Make a loud clicking sound by hitting the tongue against the roof of your mouth. Click for 15 seconds and repeat this exercise 10 times.

E] Lifestyle Changes That Can Help

Along with therapy, making changes to your lifestyle can reduce the severity of OSA. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause daytime drowsiness, and it’s vital for people suffering from OSA to know this, especially if they are around machinery or driving. Patient education also includes explaining other factors that contribute to OSA.

Weight Loss: Losing body fat can decrease fat-deposits in the tongue and at the back of the throat that restrict the airway. It can also reduce abdominal girth that affects the capacity of the lungs. This may reduce OSA related symptoms, improving cardiovascular health and the overall quality of life.

Exercise: An active lifestyle with a regular exercise routine can help improve your overall general health and keep obesity away. This can contribute to reducing the various symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea such as hyperactivity, irritability, daytime sleepiness, etc.

Not Sleeping on Your Back: The position you sleep in can contribute to OSA. Sleeping on your back can cause your tongue and other tissues to block your airway. This worsens the risk of sleep-disordered breathing. So, it is best to adjust your sleeping position to avoid airway constriction.

Myofunctional Therapy Specialist

When it comes to treating sleep apnea, early intervention is important. It is best to consult with a certified and experienced specialist who is trained for Myofunctional therapy and sleep dentistry. A Myofunctional therapy specialist will recommend individually-tailored exercises based on a comprehensive anatomic profile and the severity of the orofacial dysfunction. This will help lower the severity of sleep apnea and enhance your overall health and well-being.

To learn more about Myofunctional therapy, get in touch with us.

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