Why I Became an SLP: My Journey as a Patient

My deep passion for speech language pathology, and specifically feeding and swallowing disorders, was born from an undiagnosed orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD) that impacted my life for over 20 years. OMD, also known as “tongue thrust,” is a disorder characterized by improper tongue, jaw and lip positioning during swallowing, feeding, speaking and when the mouth is at rest. Patients with OMD often present with a long and narrow face, low tongue posture (resting the tongue on the low teeth), a retracted (or under developed) mandible, mouth breathing and a variety of other symptoms such as malocclusion (in my case, an open anterior bite) a history of oral fixation (in my case, thumb sucking for over 3 years), etc.

Like many people diagnosed with OMD, I received orthodontic treatments to remediate crooked teeth and an anterior open bite. Orthodontics straightened my teeth but did not remediate the root of the problem: my tongue posturing and swallow pattern.  I had an anterior open bite because I thrusted my tongue forward each time I swallowed. I was recruiting the wrong muscles to swallow up to 1000 times a day. I was a mouth breather and miserable. Like some patients with OMD, I suffered from debilitating TMD pain, chronic headaches and upper back and neck pain. The pain was so severe and frequent that it impacted my ability to exercise, socialize, fulfill simple activities of daily living (e.g. wear a backpack, carry bags of groceries, etc.) and maintain a normal, remotely happy life. I saw over 25 specialists in the course of 14 years and while some interventions temporarily alleviated the pain, I never found a solution that significantly remediated the pain long-term.  It wasn’t until shortly after college, while down another rabbit hole of TMD and chronic headache research, that I found a dentist who diagnosed me with an orofacial myofunctional disorder and recommended Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy.

I was skeptical, as I’d been through countless therapies, but I was desperate to be out of pain. After 2 days of completing the therapy exercises I noticed a difference in my jaw tension. After 4 weeks of therapy I experienced a 40% remediation of symptoms. My facial structures also changed, as OMT targets oral muscular balance. Friends and family commented that I “must’ve had something done,” when I was really just learning to use my facial muscles properly! Over the next few months, my pain continued to decrease. Today I feel better than I ever have. I experience roughly one headache a month versus chronic head, neck and jaw pain every single day of my life.

I became a speech language pathologist to prevent, diagnose and treat swallowing and feeding disorders in patients of all ages. There is a large and growing body of research that shows correlations between feeding, swallowing and breathing patterns and healthy airway and facial development. There is also a growing body of research that shows correlations between Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy (OMT) and better health outcomes for patients with TMD, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and a variety of other health concerns. I am passionate about bringing hope and healing to the lives of patients who feel hopeless and to families who want to make the right choices for their children’s facial and airway development. Please, explore my website. Education is power on the quest toward health and restoration.

“We shall never cease from exploration but the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Eliot

*I’d like to note that I was diagnosed with a “tongue thrust” at age 15, before a second round of braces and in the thick of TMD pain. During this time, I was not thoroughly educated on the correlations between TMD and OMD, facial development and OMD, and/or the reasons to continue exercises during orthodontic treatment. My treatment was brief and I quickly relapsed once braces were put on. This is why I’m so passionate about providing numerous patient resources and education: so that patients can feel knowledgeable and empowered far beyond their time as patients in my office.