FACIAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
Habits that Affect Facial Growth and Development
Why Early Intervention is so Important
It’s not just genetics that determines what a person’s face will look like in adulthood. Several orofacial habits that young children sometimes acquire can permanently alter the “normal” appearance of their faces. Let’s look at some of the habits that affect facial growth and development.
Tongue Thrust, Thumb Sucking and Mouth Breathing
We’ve talked in other places about how the habits of tongue thrust and mouth breathing can lead to unwanted symptoms and conditions in adults. Add thumb sucking, and give any of these habits to a toddler-age child, and the biggest concern becomes the way the child’s facial structure develops as he or she ages. Negative results these habits can cause include:
Long, narrow face
Under-defined cheek bones
Small lower jaw
Large smile that reveals the gums
Crooked or crowded teeth
Forward head posture
While the thumb sucking, mouth breathing and tongue thrust habits seem unrelated, they all have one thing in common: the incorrect use and placement of the tongue.
Proper Tongue Placement
The tongue should rest on the roof of the mouth, rather than on the floor of the mouth, the majority of the time. When properly placed, the tongue helps to widen the upper jaw, which allows for a larger airway.
A narrowed airway, which can be caused by the tongue consistently lying on the floor of the mouth, makes nasal breathing more difficult. This often leads to habitual mouth breathing, a documented cause of many of the facial malformations in the bullets above.
How Myofunctional Therapy can Help
Therapy to remove negative oral habits should begin when the child is approximately 4 years old, or at whatever older age these habits are first spotted. Myofunctional therapy will include a series of customized exercises that are not difficult or painful for a child to engage in.
The goal is to increase the strength and tone of the tongue and other facial muscles while introducing new, healthy habits such as a correct lip seal, correct tongue placement, nasal breathing and proper chewing and swallowing practices.
With parental guidance and support, the habits that affect facial growth and development (tongue thrust, thumb sucking, mouth breathing and others) can be eliminated, thereby giving the child the opportunity to enjoy the face that he or she was meant to have.