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Idaho State University opens new specialty speech communication clinic; hopes to educate public about oromyofacial disorders

Posted December 1, 2011

The Idaho State University Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has opened a specialty clinic within its Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic, but there's one problem – people who need its services may not be aware they need them.

"We need to educate the public about the kinds of disorders this clinic assesses and treats," said Joni Loftin, a speech-language pathologist and clinical professor at Idaho State University. "Our new ISU Orofacial Myology Clinic is the only one of its kind in the region and offers unique services that can treat a variety of functional issues."

Clinic director Joni Loftin.The clinic is set up to treat oromyofacial disorders, which are inappropriate muscle functions or habits involving the tongue, lips and jaws that can negatively affect chewing, swallowing, dentition, speech or maintenance of desired orthodontic results.

The most familiar OMD to the general population is "tongue thrust," where the tongue pushes against or between the front or lateral teeth during swallowing and speech, Loftin said.

What most people don't realize is that tongue thrust does not cause teeth to move.  Another common OMD, incorrect resting posture of the tongue, can account for teeth movement because the pressure is constant.  Tongue thrust does not cause malocclusion, but more likely occurs because of it. The tongue wants to fill open spaces in the mouth. Incorrect resting posture of the tongue or lips can create differences in muscle use that affect overall facial tone and structure that can cause problems in chewing, swallowing, and speaking.

OMDs can be caused by a combination of factors, most commonly from habits such as prolonged thumb sucking, cheek or nail biting, open-mouth posturing, or tooth clenching; a blocked nasal airway from enlarged tonsils/adenoids, allergies, asthma, sinusitis, or anything else that promotes a habitual open-mouth (lips-apart) posture as a way to breathe; structural problems like a tongue-tie; or a hereditary predisposition. All of these aspects lead to an abnormal tongue resting posture because the tongue is displaced if the mouth needs to be open to breathe or if there is a thumb in the way. Abnormal lip resting posture follows abnormal tongue posture and, commonly, tongue thrust may result.

Commonly observed symptoms of OMDs include having an open-mouth posture; someone 4 years of age or older who sucks his or her thumb, finger, or clothing; an abnormal chewing or swallowing pattern; having a "tongue thrust"; is a messy or noisy eater; has speech errors, often with a lisp, of  "s," "z," "ch" or "sh" sounds, especially if not getting better with speech therapy; or has difficulty maintaining orthodontically corrected teeth alignment.  One or more of these may signal the presence of an OMD.

 Loftin, the new clinic’s director, has received extensive training in oromyofacial disorders over the last three years and recently passed the certification exam of the International Association of Orofacial Myology.

The clinic will offer oromyofacial therapy, also called oral myofunctional therapy, which is structured, individualized therapy that seeks to inhibit incorrect muscle movements, and develop normal oral rest posture, oral stage of swallowing (reduce tongue thrust), and speech articulation, and eliminate oral habits like thumb sucking. Therapy typically involves an individualized program of exercises to re-pattern oral and facial muscles, to correct tongue and lip resting postures and to develop correct chewing and swallowing patterns.  A behaviorally-based thumb sucking elimination program is also a part of this clinic.

For more information on oromyofacial disorders see www.iaom.com.  For a free consultation at ISU, call Joni Loftin at 282-4576 or loftjoni@isu.edu.

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