Conventional wisdom tells us that braces are just destiny. Either our child grows straight teeth or they don’t. We can help them prevent tooth decay and gum disease, but we can’t stop their teeth from growing crooked.
But we now know that’s not true.
Creating good oral habits in your child may help their jaw and teeth develop properly. We now understand that a child’s jaw and tongue function heavily influence their teeth. Correcting poor oral habits could help to prevent the need for braces.
Retraining the facial muscles may take time. How long will depend on the severity of the problem and how your child responds.
Overall, myofunctional training aims to build, strength, tone and coordination in the face. This will help guide jaw and teeth growth and improve neural balance.
The broad goals of myofunctional training are to:
- Establish nasal breathing
- Develop good tongue posture
- Train a closed lip posture
- Assist in breastfeeding, eating, and chewing
- Improve sleep, speech, and function
In this article I’m going to outline a Facial Exercise Program for Children to help you get started to correct your child’s oral habits.
I. Establish nasal breathing
Step 1) Prevent nasal congestion
Cleaning your child’s nose may be more important for their teeth than tooth brushing.
Here are three approaches to prevent and manage nasal congestion in your child:
- Always wipe the nose area with a warm cloth.
- Nasal irrigation: use a small amount of warm saline with a neti pot, to remove mucus.
- Slowing breath and building CO2 tolerance. Simple breath holding exercises can help to clear congestion and slow a child’s breathing. Guide the child to pinch their nose with their fingers and hold their breath for 5 seconds. Practice this together and gradually increase this to 20-30 seconds.
If your child has a chronic blocked sinus, then check they’re getting enough vitamin D and introduce them to The Dental Diet.
Breathing exercises to slow and normalize breath:
Ask your child to lie on the floor. They should place their hand on their tummy and take deep, slow breaths that lift up their hand. Encourage them to hold their breath and then breathe out slowly. Repeat 10 times.
Blow up a balloon
Encourage them to breathe deeply through the nose then out through the mouth, strongly, to blow up the balloon.
Straw and cup of water
Place a straw into a glass of water, then ask your child to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth, into the straw. They will probably enjoy making bubbles!
Single nostril breathing
Ask your child to try breathing in through one nostril and then out through the other, using their thumb to close the nostril they’re not using. Then ask them to start with the other nostril, alternating between the two.
II. Develop tongue posture
To encourage the tongue to sit against the roof of the mouth.
Ask your child to:
- Open their mouth wide – and try to hold it open for a time. Time them and try to make it a game as you encourage them to do it again and break their record.
- ‘Pop’ their tongue. Ask them to try pushing their tongue to the roof of mouth and making a ‘popping sound’. Repeat 20 times.
- Tracing the roof of their mouth. Ask them to push their tongue to the roof of their mouth, with the tip behind the incisors. Then ask them if they can take the tip all the way to the back of the mouth and then forward again.
- Tongue trace – ask them to close their lips, push the lips out and make a circle with them. Then they should trace around the circle with the tip of their tongue. Ask them to do this 10 times clockwise then 10 times anticlockwise.
- Windscreen wiper – Ask them to put the top of their tongue against their top front teeth and wipe their tongue from side to side like windscreen wipers, so it touches touching the edges of the mouth. Repeat 20 times.
The correct swallow means that the tongue makes a seal against the palate and pushes water back in a wave like motion.
Here’s a test for the correct swallow pattern.
- Bite and swallow – Making a big cheesy grin. Hold the teeth together and cheeks away from the teeth with fingers. Guide the child to hold a small amount of at the front of the tongue. They then push the liquid to the top of the mouth, rolling
III. Train closed lip posture
Balancing the facial muscles can help the lips to stay in a closed position.
Lip stretches help to give the lips range of motion to close comfortably at rest:
- Pull the upper lip down over the front teeth.
- Pull the lower lip up above the top teeth.
IV. Assist in breastfeeding, eating, and chewing
After 6 months of age, hard solid food should be introduced into a child’s daily diet.
Encourage them to eat some raw vegetable every day, such as a small carrot or piece of celery. Chop food into manageable and chewable sized pieces. Let a child chew!
Gum chewing (with a natural no-sugar or artificial sweetener gum) exercises, can help to grow the jaw.
V. Improve sleep, speech, and function
- Encourage your child to practise maintaining a straight back, with their head back and shoulders level.
- Remind them to sit up straight
- Remind them to speak clearly and slowly (‘so that we can hear your brilliant ideas properly.’)
- Humming – deep humming (from diaphragm) for 2 minutes once per day can improve their control,
- Practice vowel pronunciation with them.
The vowel game – say each slowly focusing on pronunciation.
‘I’ – pointing at oneself
Eye – pointing to eyes
Oww! – rubbing arm pretending to be hurt
Yay – raising their arms as though celebrating!
Yeah – nodding head in agreement
You – Pointing at another person in the room
Whoa! – Make the palm held outwards sign for ‘stop!’
Eeee – Encourage them to squeak like a mouse.
Spot the signs to prevent braces in your child
Good facial habits sit alongside a multidisciplinary approach to childhood dental growth.
**NOTE** These exercises use the principles that a myofunctional therapist or orofacial myologist will employ to correct facial imbalances. If you suspect your child has oro-facial dysfunction, always consult a professional.
A multidisciplinary approach will often work alongside an airway or sleep focused dentist or orthodontist, an ENT, speech therapist, chiropractor or osteopath and many other professions who can guide your child’s dental growth.
It’s natural to be keen to do these exercises with your child – you just want to help. But wherever possible, keep these exercises light-hearted and make them into a game.
Don’t be discouraged if your child has slow or delayed progress. Some neuromuscular habits will take a lot of time to become habit. Avoid nagging your child or constantly drawing attention to the things they need to work on, such as tongue posture or nasal breathing. This may make them feel self-conscious or uncomfortable.
It’s important to remember that some children will require professional help and monitoring to achieve correct function. Don’t be discouraged though, what you do at home is crucial in building the right habits into their future.
Have you tried the program in your child yet? Let us know your experiences in the comments below.
Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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