DC Smiles

Does Your Breathing Affect Your Looks?

They say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and when it comes to our physical features, there is never a one-size-fits-all definition of beauty. Our faces are usually reflections of the family characteristics passed down from our mothers and fathers – who assure us from an early age that we are beautiful, despite what we ourselves may think when we sometimes peer anxiously into our early morning bathroom mirrors.

Conventional standards of physical beauty aside, there are facial characteristics that are representative of a superior level of well-being and other traits that are indicative of poor health. And, believe it or not, those facial features can start evolving during childhood as a result of mouth breathing.

Can You Breathe the WRONG Way?

Breathing through one’s mouth as opposed to through a nose may seem like a minor issue. Breathing is breathing, right? As long as you are getting air in your lungs, what’s the difference?

In fact, there are many reasons why breathing through the nose is superior to mouth respiration. We were built to breathe through our noses and drawing in air that way increases circulation and blood oxygen, as well as improves lung volume. Conversely, mouth breathing bypasses critical phases of the breathing process, including the release of bacteria-fighting chemicals that reduce the risk of infection.

But, could mouth breathing also affect what you look like? The answer, incredibly, is yes.

Take a Deep Breath

When the mouth is left open to breathe for long periods of time, the muscles in the cheeks tighten and apply an external force to the upper and lower jaw that causes a narrowing effect on the face. Additionally, the tongue – which typically rests on the roof of a closed mouth is forced to drop down lower, creating a narrow upper dental arch and preventing the normal development of the mid-face.

Years of mouth breathing will lead to an overall narrowing of the face, crooked teeth and poor jaw development. A child who breathes this way can expect to have a lower chin and less prominent retracted lower jaw.

Why does mouth occur in the first place? Young children who suffer from chronic congestion – whether a result of allergies or other nasal issues – typically get used to breathing through their mouths.

What Mouth Breathing Looks Like

Snoring, chronic fatigue, dark under-eye circles and enlarged adenoids are all signs of mouth breathing in children. If you recognize these symptoms in your own child, consider a visit to a dentist trained in myofunctional therapy, which can help correct abnormal functions of the tongue and facial muscles in young children.

Children are beautiful to their parents, no matter what they look like. But we can all take steps to ensure the kids we raise are beautifully healthy inside and out.

Think your child suffers from chronic mouth breathing? We can help. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at dcsmiles.com.




Do You Need a Sleep Appliance?

In the day-to-day hubbub and stresses of life, we all have mornings that find us feeling less rested than we’d like to be. Even if you went to bed at a reasonable hour, job or family worries weighing on your mind can keep you from getting that kind of restful and restorative sleep we all need.

But, if you find that you are chronically tired, stumbling your way through days like a zombie and your spouse is continually complaining about the loud snoring you do each night – you may want to seek a doctor’s opinion on whether you suffer from mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Why are You Always Tired?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that occurs when breathing is disrupted during sleep.  The more common form – obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) – is caused by the collapse of soft tissue at the back of the throat that results in a blockage of the airways, and can cause loud snoring.  If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may stop breathing repeatedly during the night – up to hundreds of times over the course of several hours – and as a result, your brain may not be receiving enough oxygen.

Overweight men over the age of 40 with a family history of sleep apnea or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) are more at risk for suffering from sleep apnea, but anyone – including children – can be affected. Untreated, the disorder can lead to high blood pressure, a higher risk of stroke, heart failure, diabetes, and depression. That’s on top of the daily exhaustion and negative effects on concentration and focus. People with sleep apnea never feel fully rested, because they never get a full night’s sleep.

If your doctor suspects you may have sleep apnea, you may be asked to undergo a sleep apnea test – also called a polysomnogram.  Many times, this test is done under the surveillance of a medical team in a sleep disorder center, where patients are monitored and recorded to determine the nature and severity of a sleep disorder.

Like any chronic condition, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible can improve your chances of successful treatment and lower the risk of developing further complications.


Sleep Apnea Treatment Options

So, once you’ve been diagnosed, how will your sleep apnea be treated? If lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking or changing sleeping positions don’t help enough, you may be required to use a breathing machine known as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which regulates breathing by increasing air pressure. Unfortunately, it can be a large, loud apparatus with tubing and a mask that gets in the way of relaxing bedtime routines. Thankfully, this technology is evolving and smaller, quieter alternatives are becoming available.

If your sleep apnea is mild, you probably won’t need a CPAP machine and may get successful results with a dental appliance. These oral devices, which resemble sports mouth guards or retainers, work by pushing the lower jaw and lower tongue slightly forward which keeps breathing airways open during sleep. They are custom made and fitted by your dentist to conform precisely to your mouth and jaw.

Sleep apnea is more than just a nuisance – it’s a serious health issue that can affect nearly every facet of your well-being. If there’s a chance you may have it, get checked out right away. Your snoring, your mental focus and your overall health will greatly improve – and your suffering spouse will thank you!

Have you been diagnosed with sleep apnea? Talk to us about dental appliances. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.




Chew Your Way to Better Health


How many times this past week did you glance at your watch, realize you were late for something, grab a snack or meal on the run and wolf it down while hurrying to your next appointment?

Although we can acknowledge that our society is too fast-paced and harried at times, the idea of eating on the run has been around for a while. Fast food, drive-throughs, and super-speed pizza delivery all support the practice of rushing through our meals – which unfortunately may be to the detriment of our health.

When was the last time you sat down and purposefully chewed your way through your food? For many of us, it’s a time luxury reserved for special dinners out or first dates. But, the exercise of chewing, also known as mastication, is a critical first step to the digestion process and taking it slow ensures you will start out – and finish – with better nutrition absorption, a healthier relationship with food and even a trimmer waistline!

Chew, Chew

Making a conscious effort to slowly chew your food more completely has significant benefits:

It helps digestion

You may not connect chewing to digestion, but it’s actually an important preliminary part of the process. As you chew, your secreted saliva coats the food with enzymes that start to digest it while it’s still in your mouth. Additionally, the smaller the particles of food that you swallow, the easier it is to digest them. Chewing your food until it’s almost liquefied (we know – that’s a lot of chewing!) ensures enzymes and stomach acid can properly dissolve all those particles.

It ensures nutrient absorption

Breaking down all those food particles is essential for distributing the proteins and nutrients they contain. Amino acids – which are what proteins are broken down into – promote repair and growth throughout the body and support healthy sleep, energy levels and brain activity.

It controls your weight

The longer you take to eat, the easier it is for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full before you wind up scarfing down half a chocolate cake at one sitting. Slow, purposeful chewing of your food allows you to taste it better, appreciate it more and truly stop when you’re satisfied.

It’s good for your teeth

When you chew your food into smaller particles, the bones and muscles around your teeth get a workout, which helps to keep them healthy and strong. Increased saliva also washes away bacteria which means less plaque build-up in your mouth.

So, how carefully should you chew your food? Try to take smaller bites to begin with, chew each mouthful until it’s lost all its texture and wait to drink fluids until after you’ve swallowed each bite. Chewing more slowly can remind you that food is meant to be savored and enjoyed – not eaten at full speed on the run

DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.


Your Mother Was Right: Good Posture is Important

Are you a sloucher?


In these times of intently staring down into laptops, mobile phones and electronic devices, many of us have become a generation of slouchers, slumpers and hunchers. And, although our mothers may all be waving their fingers in disappointment, we might roll our eyes and shrug it off with hunched shoulders. After all, what harm could we really be doing to ourselves anyway?

Turns out – quite a bit more than you might think. Poor posture can be responsible for many negative physical and even emotional effects on the body. Becoming more self-aware of how we sit, stand and move may help reduce pain, increase health and even improve our moods.

Slouch Much?

You may have started slouching as a somewhat sullen and angsty teenager, attempting to shrink yourself from the view of parents and teachers. Slouching feels a bit rebellious too – especially after a comment about posture from your mother.

You continued your slumping while studying through college and into a fairly sedentary lifestyle behind a computer – working long hours staring into a screen at a desk creates an opportunity to slouch that becomes increasingly tempting.

Now, you’re a full-time, bonafide sloucher. Other than giving you the physical appearance of a hunched back, what havoc is it wreaking on your body?

Hazards of Hunching

Headaches – As you slouch your head over a desk or table and lean into your computer by just two inches, you are adding 20 extra pounds of pressure on your spine. That forces your neck and back muscles to work harder to hold up the extra weight, which can lead to headaches and shoulder strain.

Jaw pain – A misaligned spine causes stress to your jaw joints and creates additional muscle pains in the back of your head.

Internal organ issues – When your spine is misaligned, it can affect your ribcage, damaging your lungs and heart and eventually causing gastrointestinal issues.

Stop the Slump

As bad as slouching is for your body, there’s good news. No matter your age, poor posture can be reversible – if you make it a priority.

Stay alert at your desk – Working over your computer for long periods of time – as many of us must do – puts you at the highest risk of succumbing to poor posture. Make sure your seat is properly aligned with your desk. Sit with both feet on the floor, with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. Roll your shoulders back and down, so you feel your shoulder blades move down your back.

Check your stance – When standing and walking, your ears, shouleers, hips and ankles should all be in a vertical line. Keep your feet hip-width apart with toes pointed forward. Your spine should be erect with your shoulders pulled back and down, and your chin raised. Check yourself out in a mirror to be sure you’re staying straight!

Yoga classes or similar kinds of exercise can help improve flexibility and muscle tone that lead to better posture. Correcting poor posture can help you breathe easier, improve circulation and digestion, make you look slimmer and younger and improve your level of confidence!

Learning to sit up straight is a worthwhile exercise that we know your mother will agree with!

With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.

Are You a Candidate for Dental Implants?

Dental Implant i-CATDespite the advances in dental and oral health care in this country over the past century, many Americans lose their teeth because of tooth decay, illness or injury.  In fact, 178 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth and over 35 million people in this country do not have any natural teeth at all.

Losing teeth can be uncomfortable and embarrassing for many reasons. It can affect your speech, your oral health and your self-esteem. So, what are your options for missing teeth? Removable dentures and bridges can provide a long-term solution. But, they can be irritating, slip while speaking and change your diet as you may need to avoid certain kinds of foods.

Dental Implants: A Permanent Solution

Dental implants replace natural tooth roots and are a permanent solution to lost teeth. They consist of metal posts or frames that are surgically fused below the gum line directly onto your jawbone. Artificial crowns are then placed over the implants, creating a new set of permanent replacement teeth.

Committing to dental implants takes some patience. The procedure requires several steps that are performed over the span of months.

  1. First, the dentist surgically places the implant onto the patient’s jaw, while inserting screws to prevent debris and bacteria from entering the implant. Gum tissue must then be allowed to heal for 3-6 months.
  2. The second step requires multiple posts to be attached to the implant. Again, the gums must heal around each post.
  3. Eventually, the third step of attaching crowns to the posts creates a permanent new set of artificial teeth.

The Next Best Thing to Natural Teeth

Although the process may seem arduous, dental implants provide the longest-lasting and cost-effective solution to missing teeth. Dental bridges and dentures – even when taken care of – will eventually have to be replaced, but dental implants are the closest thing to natural teeth and can last a lifetime if properly cared for.

With dental implants, you won’t need to worry about your speech or diet being affected by loose or uncomfortable dentures. They allow you to retain your natural face shape, as missing teeth can cause sunken or hollow-looking pockets in your face. Dental implants protect your bones and any remaining natural teeth you may have by guarding your jawbone against further irritation and deterioration. In fact, implants may actually help stimulate bone growth.

There is also no worry about further tooth decay or cavities with dental implants – although continuing proper oral habits is essential to keeping implants healthy over the long term.

So, are you a candidate for dental implants? Definitely – as long as you have healthy gums and adequate bone and tissue to support the implant process. You’ll have to visit your dentist to confirm that.

Missing teeth can affect every facet of your life – from your eating habits, to speech, to how you feel when you look in the mirror. Dental implants, when placed correctly by a skilled dentist, can give you a new lease on life – and your smile.

Have more questions about whether dental implants are right for you? Let us give you some answers. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.


What is Oil Pulling and Should You Try It?

If you’re responsible about your oral health and strive to keep your teeth clean and bright, you
hopefully brush at least twice a day. You probably use floss daily and you might even use
mouthwash on a regular basis to keep your breath fresh and your pearly whites looking…well,
pearly white.
What you may NOT be doing is oil pulling – which is the practice of swishing oil around in your
mouth like Listerine for up to 20 minutes a day. At first read, it may sound ridiculous. How can
gargling grease in between your teeth help your oral health?
Although it may seem like the latest fad to work its way through trendy natural remedy blogs,
the concept has actually been around for a long, long time. It’s an oral therapy based on
Ayurvedic medicine dating back 3,000 years to ancient India. And, even more recent studies
point to the validity of the process of “pulling” microorganisms that cause bad breath, plaque
and gingivitis out of one’s mouth when the oily rinse adheres to them. Sort of like a powerful
magnet. All those evil bacterial cells are flushed away when you spit out the oil. The evidence
that this practice may be beneficial is there, but incorporating it into your oral health regime
definitely requires some do’s and don’ts.
Oil Pulling Do: Use the Right Oil
Make sure the oil you are using is food grade and ingestible. Although many oils contain
bacteria-fighting benefits, coconut oil includes lauric acid – which has superior anti-microbial
agents. Coconut oil has also been shown to reduce streptococcus bacteria when used
regularly in this way.
Oil Pulling Don’t: Oil Should Not Replace Brushing
Even if you start oil pulling and find that it’s helpful in whitening your teeth and reducing bad
breath, it should NOT replace your regular oral health habits of brushing and flossing. Oil
pulling has not been shown to reduce tooth decay and is a supplement to oral habits, not a
replacement of conventional practices.
Oil Pulling Do: Make Sure You Spit It Out!
The whole point of oil pulling is to draw out toxins and bacteria from all the tiny crevices in
between your teeth and get rid of them by spitting them out of your mouth. By swallowing
them, you’re actually ingesting all those toxins you just took so long to pull out! Don’t forget to
spit! And, if you plan to oil pull regularly, you may want to spit everything out in a bowl or trash
can rather than the sink, as oil build up can eventually clog your pipes.
Many believers claim oil pulling can cure everything from skin issues to headaches to hormone
changes. Although it’s probably not the cure-all be-all many think it might be, according to
most dentists, it’s a unique and valuable addition to your regular oral health practices. Give it a
Have more questions about oil pulling and other trending dental practices? Let us give you
some answers. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a
holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more
at DCSmiles.com.

Why Do We Separate Health Care and Dental Care?

You rely on your medical insurance to treat anything that might go awry with your body – from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet. 

Well, everything except what’s inside your mouth, that is.

For millions of Americans, dental care is covered by a completely separate plan or considered an additional and “optional” side dish to your main entrée medical insurance. Dental coverage is not a required benefit for adults under Obamacare or most Medicaid plans. Meanwhile, many typical dental plans don’t cover even regular cleanings at 100%, while cavities and other problems are costly, with or without insurance.

Dental Care as a Luxury

Sadly, a third U.S. residents don’t get regular dental check-ups every year, and one quarter of those surveyed in a recent survey by the Federal Reserve reported they had skipped seeing a dentist due to the expense. Treating dental care as a luxury rather than a basic right creates a socio-economic population of people who suffer common tooth problems that lead to advanced and dangerous complications.

How did the mouth become the black hole of medical insurance? Why do we treat the dentistry industry as a different profession? And is there a disconnect between what goes on in our mouth and what happens throughout the rest of our body?

Haircuts….and Surgery?

Historically, the separation of dentistry and medicine can be traced back to the practices of surgery and less invasive methods of healing. Physicians did not perform surgery, which was seen as a mechanical skill and not as part of the ancient medical arts.

Instead, American barber surgeons – who already had the right tools – performed surgery and extracted teeth, which was a tradition brought over from Europe. Instead of offering their services in hospitals, barber surgeons set up commercial establishments, inviting in surgical and tooth extraction customers with the red and white striped pole – still associated with barbers today.

In 1840, the first dental college was opened in Baltimore, MD, elevating the industry to a trained profession worthy of intense study and licensing. But, that was only after two self-trained dentists appealed to physicians at the college of medicine at the University of Baltimore to add dentistry to the courses of study. When the physicians at the time refused to do so, the separate college was opened and dentistry and medicine continued to remain separate professions.

Dentistry was still a growing field in the 1960’s when Congress put together the first public health insurance programs. The dental market was not valued as highly as other forms of medical care at the time. In fact, in 1960, only 2.3 percent of Americans retained any form of dental insurance.

Dental and medical fields have continued to grow separately from one another, culminating in a landscape of professional independence and autonomy. Yet, a lack of communication and continuity in care between our oral health and the care of other bodily systems can sometimes have disastrous results.

More than 800,000 visits to the ER each year are complications resulting from preventable dental issues, costing the public systems billions of dollars. Yet, without dentists working in the emergency room, most of those problems remained untreated.

Dental and medical records are also kept separate, even though many illnesses may include symptoms from various parts of the body that should be compared and studies. Infected teeth can spread bacteria across other systems leading to severe consequences up to and including death.

Yet, an integrated approach to dental and medical care is slowly gaining ground. The Affordable Care Act requires providers to offer dental coverage for children. Some universities are building dentistry courses into their nursing, pharmacy and physician assistant programs.

Hopefully this trend continues into the future, acknowledging the importance of a cohesive and comprehensive perspective on oral and overall health.

Healthy bodies start with healthy teeth. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.




High Anxiety in the Dentist’s Chair: Is it All in Your Head?

Throw a rock into a crowd and you’re likely to hit someone who doesn’t enjoy going to the dentist. It’s one of those appointments we love to complain about, even though we appreciate how critical it is to our overall health to get regular check-ups of our teeth and gums.

You may not LIKE going to the dentist, but 5% to 8% of Americans avoid going to the dentist entirely due to actual fear. And up to 20% of potential dental patients only go if they consider it absolutely necessary – like when they are experiencing tooth pain or other mouth issues.

Where does that level of fear come from?  For many, it may stem from a scarring experience as a young child – perhaps an unfortunate accident or lack of proper levels of anesthesia during a procedure. One bad occurrence can set a would-be patient on a path of avoidance for the rest of his or her life.

For others, there’s no one incident to point to, but rather a general fear of sitting in the dentist’s chair. Studies point to fear of pain, fear of embarrassment and fear of loss of control as the top reasons patients prefer to take their chances outside the dental office.  Although pain can be a reality during certain procedures, developing a healthy mindset about visiting the dentist starts well before one steps through the office door.  If you or someone you know suffers from a fear of going to the dentist so intense it prevents them from getting regular oral care, try some of these tips for dealing with dental anxiety.

Tip 1: Don’t keep it to yourself

If you thought you were the only one with a major fear of the dentist before you started reading this blog post, you should know by this point that you’re not alone. It’s an extremely common issue – and one that every dentist is aware of.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your dentist about your anxiety. It’s nothing they haven’t heard before, and they might have ways to allay your concerns. Your dentist may have some ideas that have worked for other patients to calm them down. Together you can work on a strategy to create a more relaxing visit – whether that means music playing in the background or a step-by-step description of what’s happening inside your mouth.

Tip 2: Take your time

You might think that rushing through your dental appointment in order to get it done as quickly as possible would be a good idea, but in fact, you might need some extra time to get through it.

Talk to your dentist about going slow. Have a pre-agreed upon signal to use to communicate to your dentist that you need a break. You might want to hold something tightly in your hand, like a stress ball or a worry stone to re-focus your physical attention.

Tip 3: If all else fails, look into medication

Similar to taking something before flying if you have a phobia, fear of dental appointments might require a prescription for a mild sedative. Talking to your dentist or a psychiatrist will give you a better idea if that may be an option for you.

Depending on the procedure, anesthesia might be available, if you can’t even handle being conscious during your visit. But, such measures are really only appropriate for someone with a true phobia.

If your fear of dentists has prevented you from getting regular check-ups, remember how important maintaining your oral health is. Neglecting your teeth and gums can lead to serious conditions, including dental pain, tooth loss and gum disease, which has been linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It’s worth facing your fears to start back on the road to healthy teeth.

Healthy bodies start with healthy teeth. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.





Can Mouth Breathing Be Dangerous to Your Health?

The average person takes between 17,000 and 30,000 breaths in one day. That’s a lot of air traveling through your respiratory system! As long as air is traveling into your lungs, you might not be concerned about whether it’s flowing in through your mouth or your nose.  Breathing is breathing, right?

Maybe not. Humans were designed to breathe through the nose, which provides a natural filtration and humidifier for the air they take in. When it becomes difficult to breathe through your nose – you have a cold or you’re breathing hard after exercising, it’s normal and appropriate to take in oxygen through your mouth.

However, when mouth breathing become chronic in older children and adults, it can cause serious health concerns including problems with speech, the need for braces and orthodontia facial development issues, lack of oxygen and even changes in posture. It’s certainly a problem that needs to be addressed as early as possible.

In Through Your Nose, Not Through Your Mouth

Typically, mouth breathing starts because of a blockage of the nasal passages. Whether it’s allergies, enlarged tonsils or sinus issues, it may be difficult for a child or adult suffering from any of those conditions to breath easily through the nose.

It’s a common issue, and in fact affects up to 40% of the population. Unfortunately, even if the underlying problem is addressed, the habit of mouth breathing can continue and remain a problem.

It’s only been recently that the negative impacts of mouth breathing have been studied and exposed. Understanding how mouth breathing can affect the health of you and your children may compel you to seek medical intervention if required.

Snoring and Poor Sleep Quality

Mouth breathers snore more during sleep. Snoring can interfere with the quality of sleep and healthful rest of an individual and lead to tiredness and lack of focus during the day. Snoring can also aggravate sleep apnea.

Postural Changes

Incredibly, breathing through your mouth can cause an altered positioning of your head and shoulders as your body must adjust to keep airways open. Elevated shoulders, forward positioning of the head and increased curvature of the spine can result.

Changed Facial Appearance

Over time, young children who predominantly mouth breathe may experience changes in the overall shape of face. Abnormal tongue positioning can lead to narrow faces and misaligned teeth.

Decreased Oxygen and Compromised Immune System

Chronic mouth breathing means bypassing the body’s natural filtration system against germs, allergens and other pollutants. In fact, the nose produces its own bacteria-killing gas – nitric oxide. Mouth breathers lose that advantage of fighting off common microbes with every breath they take. Nitric oxide also enhances your lungs’ capacity to absorb oxygen.

Are You a Mouth Breather?

If you or your child suffers from chronic mouth breathing, addressing the issue sooner rather than later can help prevent many of the issues mentioned above. It’s essential to retrain your child to breathe normally through the nose.

  • Identify the underlying cause and treat allergies or sinus issues.
  • Focus on your own breathing patterns (we usually don’t!).
  • Encourage children to breathe through their noses.
  • See a dentist or orthodontist about a jaw expander if necessary.

90% of a child’s facial development is complete by early adolescence, so correct mouth breathing issues before they become untreatable!

Healthy bodies start with healthy teeth. With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.




Orofacial Myofunctional Disorders: Do You Have One?

You probably don’t think too much about your tongue. It’s there when you need it – like, when you’re licking an ice cream cone – and tucked away when you’re not. Sometimes you might burn it on hot coffee or soup, but that’s probably the biggest trouble it can cause, right?

Wrong. You might not believe it, but tongue positioning is an important indicator of oral and overall health.

Although babies are typically born with tongues that stick out a bit, there is a normal receding process that happens as a child develops. If something prevents that progression and a child’s tongue protrudes during swallowing, speaking and even at rest, it’s known as an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD). In fact, any disorder of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth falls under this diagnosis.

Left untreated in children and adults, OMD can actually cause a myriad of other problems all over your body, including:

  • Misaligned teeth
  • Facial pain
  • Mouth breathing
  • Teeth-grinding
  • Stomach aches
  • Speech problems
  • Sleep apnea

Who knew improper tongue positioning could cause such havoc!?

Orofacial Myofunctional Disorder – Where Does It Start?

OMD typically appears in developing children. Many times, it will start with insufficient nasal breathing or mouth breathing. Such issues can be caused by allergies or chronic nasal congestion. If a child can’t breathe properly through his or her nose because it’s clogged and begins to rely on mouth breathing, the tongue will be forced to lie flat and lip muscles will weaken.

Similarly, OMD can also be caused by enlarged tonsils and adenoids that block air passages. Even after tonsils are removed, the mouth-breathing habit can continue and cause more issues.

And although family heredity does play a role in the size and strength of facial muscles, parents will be chagrined to learn that thumb-sucking and extended pacifier use in babies can also lead to the disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

You may be able to recognize the signs of OMD in your young child. If you notice she is snoring regularly, breathing through her mouth consistently or developing speech issues – such as lisping – it’s a good idea to visit a dentist.

OMD can also be recognized through dental problems – specifically an improper alignment between the upper and lower teeth, also known as a malocclusion. Overbites and other issues can cause difficulties in biting and chewing food.

A diagnosis of OMD is usually made by a dentist or orthodontist, although a treatment plan may include the participation of a speech-language pathologist, as well.

OMD Therapy – How Can It Help?

Although it may be difficult to believe that an exercise-based therapy can help retrain and strengthen the oral and facial muscles to dramatically improve these disorders, a growing field of professionals have demonstrated such results through orofacial myofunctional therapy.

A trained professional works with patients to evaluate and treat OMDs by gradually training the tongue back into its natural position. Awareness of facial and oral muscles is taught and proper swallowing techniques are demonstrated. A program of exercises is followed – sometimes over a six to twelve-month period in order to promote proper coordination and patterns of muscle movement.

OMD is best treated when caught early, so if you think your child suffers from incorrect oral postures and swallowing issues, see your dentist or doctor right away. Orofacial myofunctional therapy techniques can improve critical speaking, breathing and sleeping capabilities. Don’t underestimate the importance of your tongue!

Think you or a loved one suffers from OMD? Make an appointment today – we can help! With locations in Alexandria, VA and Washington DC, DC Smiles provides a holistic approach to dental care that incorporates total-body health and wellness. Learn more at DCSmiles.com.