Mouth and Face Development

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What factors determine how our faces and mouths develop?

Is the appearance of our face and mouth predetermined, based on factors such as genetics? The answer, of course is yes, but there are other influencing forces that can alter the way our mouth and face develop. These can not only affect our appearance, but also our health. The good news is that the earlier these issues are taken care of, the more likely the chance that the face and mouth will develop aesthetically, healthy, and functional. 

Influencing Factors include:

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Muscles

The aesthetics of our face isn't just about how smooth our skin is, but has a lot to do with what is happening underneath the skin. "In the battle between muscles and bone, muscle always wins." (Bobak Ghaheri, MD) Muscles play a huge role in the development and maintenance of well defined facial features. They also contribute to proper bone formation. While myofunctional therapy's main goals are not enhancing aesthetics, but improving function and health, the relationship of muscles to how our faces and mouth's develop and look should not be ignored.

In order for the teeth and jaws to develop properly, with enough room for all the teeth to erupt without crowding, there needs to be adequate forces in the right amounts and the right locations. Pressure aids in bone development; the force from chewing tough and fibrous food assists the proper development of the jaws. 

 

The tongue helps to create a natural palatal expander. When the tongue is up on the palate (roof of the mouth), it creates a U-shaped template for the teeth and jaw. If the template of the tongue is lacking, the palate can develop into a high and narrow shape. This not only crowds the teeth, but changes the way the nasal cavity, sinuses, and soft palate develop, causing health problems throughout life.

 

The lips, when nicely sealed together, create a force that acts as a natural set of braces. When this pressure is lacking (lips slightly apart) for hours during the day or night, aesthetics are altered and dysfunction can occur. 

Even the way we breathe can affect our development and health. Mouth breathing can result in "Long Face Syndrome," a "gummy smile," and/or a retruded jaw line (chin further back). 

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Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy works with the muscles. One of our main goals is to transition the muscles in the face and mouth from a state of dysfunction to function.

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Tethered-Oral Tissues

It seems strange that a small piece of tissue could be the initiator of so many problems. But sometimes a restriction in the tongue, lip, and sometimes even cheek, needs to be released. 

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Habits

The jaws and teeth respond to light consistent pressure. This is the basics of how orthodontics works. But unfortunately, when consistent pressure from habits occur, the jaws and teeth are altered as well, and usually not in the way we want. 

 

Habits to avoid:

 

- Prolonged pacifier use. In addition to affecting aesthetics, after 10 months old, the risk of ear infections in pacifier-sucking children increases.

 

- Bottles. Bottle feeding uses different amounts of pressure and muscles than breastfeeding. Research has shown this increases the risk of orthodontic problems.

 

- Sippy-cups. These can briefly be used during the transition stage to a cup. Ideally, they shouldn't be used past 18 months old. The original sippy-cup was created by an engineer who was tired of spilled cups. Unfortunately, no thought was put into how the muscles are used while drinking from the cup and how their extended or frequent use can change the development of the mouth and face. Most sippy-cups tend to delay or prevent the natural progression of a functional and mature swallow pattern, required past the baby phase. The most preferable sippy-cup currently on the market is the 360˚ cup. This encourages a proper swallow, while still helping to prevent spills. Moving to a regular cup as soon as the child is able, is best. Straws can be used, but should not have contact with the tongue and should be placed in front of the teeth, just resting on the lower lip, with a full lip seal. 

 

- Thumb-sucking. Actually, this can be anything that is sucked or put in the mouth regularly. It could be a finger, blanket, upper or lower lip (front teeth in front of the lip), nail/cuticle biting, or pencil/object biting. If you are having difficulty eliminating any of these habits, orofacial myologists provide a habit elimination program that is proven effective because it addresses the science behind the habit. These habits, including putting things in the mouth, like the ends of pens/pencils, can also indicate an underlying issue, such as a "tongue-tie" or obstructed airway issue.

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