Understanding Myofunctional Therapy with Dr. Vali of Summerfield Pediatric Dentistry & Oral Surgery in Scarsdale - Scarsdale Moms

Article by Margot De Boer

We’re back with more insights from Dr. Vali & Summerfield Pediatric Dentistry, this time to explore the emerging field of myofunctional therapy. We sat down with Agnieszka Beckford, a registered dental hygienist and a certified myofunctional therapist who oversees the Myo Clinic at Dr. Vali’s Scarsdale-based practice, to learn more about myofunctional therapy, how it’s prescribed and what benefits children can gain from it.

What is myofunctional therapy?
Simply put, it’s physical therapy for the mouth! Myofunctional therapy focuses on treating oral dysfunctions, such as mouth breathing, feeding problems and habits like teeth grinding or excessive drooling. Through exercises that focus on the face, mouth and neck, myofunctional therapy aims to reestablish proper tongue rest position and promote nasal breathing, which both impact palate development and can prevent or diminish complications such as sleep and airway problems, and misaligned teeth (the most common reason for needing braces later on).

While the term myofunctional therapy and the principles behind it have been practiced for over 100 years, it’s only more recently that the potential benefits of early diagnosis and treatment have been gaining increased awareness in the medical and dental fields. This is something Dr. Vali and Mrs. Beckford are working to accelerate by partnering to educate Westchester pediatricians, so that doctors are able to better identify when your child may benefit from a referral to a pediatric dentist or a myofunctional clinic and understand treatment options early on.

Tongue & Lip Ties – What to Know
One of the most common ways a myofunctional therapist works with children is aiding in the diagnosis and treatment of lip and tongue ties in infants. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding and suspect a lip or tongue tie could be interfering with feeding, it might be beneficial to consult a pediatric dentist in addition to your pediatrician and lactation consultant. Since pediatric dentists are specifically trained to evaluate and understand functions of the lips and tongue, and will have seen many more tongue ties up close than your pediatrician has, they can often help diagnose issues that general pediatricians may not be as well versed in. In addition to ties, there are other reasons why a baby may have difficulty breastfeeding, and working with a pediatric dentistry that has a myofunctional therapy practice may help mothers gain a more complete picture of their baby’s feeding troubles.

When evaluating an infant, Dr. Vali will examine the baby for restricted tissues that limit the movement of the lip and tongue and work with Agnieszka to determine the proper treatment plan. If surgery is needed, she’ll guide parents through exercises to prepare the tissue for the surgery, and to be practiced post-surgery to prevent re-attachment of the frenum and improve the baby’s prognosis. Since adding a myofunctional specialist to his practice, Dr. Vali has seen how the therapy – in combination with an experienced lactation consultant and support from a pediatrician – can help mothers have a successful breastfeeding journey.

Myofunctional Therapy in Older Kids
Dental health is all about building and promoting healthy habits in our kids, and myofunctional therapy can play a role in this, too! Daily actions like swallowing and chewing patterns, how your tongue rests when your mouth is closed, and even how you breathe can all affect the development of your palate, jaw and facial muscles. As your child grows older and has his or her regular dental well visits, your dentist should be on the lookout for red flags that may indicate the need for myofunctional therapy, which include an open mouth when resting, frequent or loud snoring, speech disturbances, poor chewing, drooling, and crowding of teeth.

Though it may not seem like a dental issue at first, parents should always voice any concerns they have related to their child’s breathing at appointments, as open mouth breathing can have a big impact on overall oral health and contribute to things like tooth decay and bad breath. Dr. Vali’s team often works very closely with other professionals like ENT physicians, orthodontists and occupational therapists to coordinate the proper overall care plan and achieve the best results for each child they treat. One thing to note is that myofunctional therapy is not covered by dental insurance; however, services are usually covered under out-of-network physical therapy benefits with a letter of medical necessity provided.

The number of sessions needed depends on the diagnosis; tongue and lip ties usually require a couple of visits, while patients with more involved issues typically will be prescribed several sessions over a period of a few months. The most important factor for success is that the therapist and parents keep things light and fun so that kids are motivated to participate and adopt the new habits!

There’s a growing body of research being done to better understand the relationship between orofacial muscles and overall growth and development, and Dr. Vali’s website has some helpful information and links for anyone interested in reading more about myofunctional therapy.

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