My Journey with TMD and How Myofunctional Therapy Radically Helped
I was originally drawn to the field of speech language pathology, and eventually went on to become an orofacial myofunctional therapist, because of my personal experience with chronic TMD throughout late childhood, adolescence and into young adulthood. For 15 years, I suffered from debilitating and chronic head, neck, upper back and jaw pain that limited my ability to engage in activities of daily living. Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) completely changed my life, alleviating 75-80% of my pain and significantly enhancing my sleep quality. I appreciated OMT most because it provided tools and strategies to manage TMD far beyond my time as a patient. (Click here to learn more about my personal story.) Memories of my former pain inspire me each and every day to serve adult patients with stories like mine, and to provide services that support healthy facial, airway and mandibular development in children.
Many patients ask: what is the correlation between TMD and OMD? And what is the role of an Orofacial Myofunctional Therapist?
First, let’s define terms. TMD refers to Tempomandibular Joint Dysfunction and is an umbrella term that encompasses pain and problems associated with the bones and muscles of the jaw, mouth and face. This includes pain and problems opening and closing the jaw, chewing, and sometimes even talking. Referred pain to the neck, head, shoulders and ears is very common. A recent study revealed that TMD impacts as much as 34% of the population, and is 1.4 times more prevalent in females than in males.
Orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), also known as a tongue thrust, is a disorder characterized by improper tongue, jaw and lip positioning during swallowing, feeding and speaking. Given these abnormal movement patterns, patients with an untreated OMD are at higher risk for developing TMD. Research shows that TMD and OMD are commonly comorbid. Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) seeks to remediate OMD and is defined as “neuromuscular re-education” or “re-patterning” of the oral and facial muscles. OMT includes behavior modification, mouth, face and tongue exercises and strategies to facilitate proper feeding, swallowing and oral rest tongue posture throughout the day.
Research has shown that Myofunctional Therapy can effectively provide relief for TMD patients.
Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy has been shown to:
- Reduce the intensity of TMD symptoms
- Reduce the frequency of TMD symptoms
- Reduce facial pain associated with TMD
- Improve jaw range of motion in patients with TMD
In contrast to many modalities that seek to alleviate pain in the moment, Myofunctional Therapy provides patients with ongoing tools and strategies to manage and remediate flareup TMD symptoms for the rest of their lives. My greatest joy is graduating patients from therapy with significantly reduced pain and giving them tools they can use for decades to come!