Cut your teeth on oral health solutions

 Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being and quality of life. However, to maintain a good oral health without pain and discomfort, it takes more than attention to brushing, flossing, and regular check-ups; given that oral health has to address a host of diseases and conditions.

One among them is orofacial myofunctional disorders that arise when the natural development of the bones and muscles in the face and mouth the oropharynx  has been hindered in some way. The condition is often found early in life and can manifest in problems with eating, swallowing, speaking, breathing and teeth alignment.

Early intervention
One of the preventive treatment methods for these disorders is myofunctional therapy a programme aimed to strengthen and retrain the oropharynx muscles through simple, repeated face and neck exercises. A lesser-known and developing area where Dr Shifa Arshad and her team, at We Litt le in Coimbatore, have achieved remarkable success by treating over 5,000 children in the past decade. “It wasn’t easy to convince medical professionals and hospitals as they were sceptical about myofunctional therapy; it was conventional to go for surgeries and corrective measures.

Myofunctional therapy was also not monetarily enhanced as a surgical approach. So, I had to quit and start a clinic of my own. Explaining the procedure to parents was even more challenging back then. After successful results and word-ofmouth exposure, we have patients from foreign countries and celebrities in India who frequent my clinic,” says Dr Shifa, who specialises in paediatric dentistry.

She will be opening a clinic at RK Salai in Chennai by the first week of April. Over the years, We Little has been emphasising on painless dentistry to solve problems such as cavities, broken or lost teeth, and those pertaining to a child’s oral health. Some of their services include painless dentistry, natural teeth straightening, breath retraining, tongue and lip tie; myofunctional therapy is the most sought-after service.

Slow and steady
Dr Shifa explains a few dental problems related to myofunctional disorders in kids. “While there are many ways in which myofunctional disorders manifest, it’s most visible in the teeth alignment for kids. When a child swallows incorrectly, the tip and/or sides of the tongue press against or spread between the teeth. This is commonly called a tongue thrust. When a child swallows incorrectly, it will often purse and tighten the muscles of the cheeks, chin and lips a symptom known as a facial grimace.

A person with abnormal oral muscle pattern may have speech-related issues and difficulty in articulating sounds. Sleep-related problems such as obstructive sleep apnea and snoring are also common,” she details. Myofunctional therapy is painless and the exercises are relatively simple. When certain muscles of the face are activated, other muscles will follow suit until proper coordination of the tongue and facial muscles is attained, she suggests. While it’s true that myofunctional therapy works best when people are younger, it can still work for people of all ages.

The body is constantly remodeling itself, including the bones. And the jawbones are the most dynamic in the body, making them receptive to changes in the forces around them, including the forces released by myofunctional therapy. “Kids as young as two years come for the therapy. The process ranges anywhere from six to 24 months for completion and the speed of recovery is subjective. After examining their jaw positioning and teeth alignment, we suggest a few exercises and dietary modifications. There’s no single set of exercise that applies to all.

Everything is customised based on the condition,” elaborates Dr Shifa. The goal in this treatment approach is to eliminate bad habits of the tongue and other muscles that can impact the structure and health of your teeth and jaws. The exercises can help straighten your teeth and provide other cosmetic benefits, but you can also enjoy better biting, chewing, speaking, and swallowing functions. For success in this therapy, consistent exercise every day is necessary until the patient has corrected their improper muscle pattern. It also takes time and commitment by the patient and their family.

Awareness and acceptance
Currently, Dr Shifa is educating parents about essential early intervention of oral health in children, which helps in proper growth, good sleep and facial features. “We’ve observed that kids who are breastfed for a minimum of two years develop a well-aligned set of teeth compared to those that are bottle- fed. Bottle feeding can lead to crooked teeth, which will affect sleep pattern and result in neurological problems.

Everything in the body is inter-connected. The earlier we treat it, the better it is for the child while growing up,” she says. To cater to a wider population, Dr Shifa has developed Myoline, a protocol for Myofunctional Therapy that involves breath, muscle and sleep retraining exercises. “If someone is trained in this for 28-32 hours, then they can give the therapy with a basic dental degree. Many oral problems can be fixed by following oral restrictions, myofunctional habits and dietary modifications.

Under the able guidance, oral hygiene is naturally possible for every child. In addition to the above, there are regular pediatric dental treatments. We can spread awareness by training more professionals,” assures Dr Shifa, who along with like-minded professionals is also working on Tongue Foundation, a website, that hopes to educate people about the impor tance of oral hygiene.

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