6 Things to Address Before Orthodontia, Part 1

January 8, 2015 BY Kelly C. Bawden, MS, CCC-SLP

Here’s the scenario: you take your sweet and charming child to visit their beloved pediatric dentist for a regularly scheduled check-up. Dr. Dentist says the usual things, like “Remember that sports drinks are full of hidden sugar,” and “Let’s try a bit harder to remember to floss.” And then she says something that makes the edges of your vision go a little fuzzy . . . “I think I’d like to refer you to my colleague for an orthodontic consultation.” She probably says other things after that, but you don’t remember any of them because your brain is flooded with visions of dollars and metal and cutting corn off the cob and dollars and fishing retainers out of the garbage and over-the-head headgear and dollars.

We all know that orthodontia is great. It has a wide array of benefits, ranging from reducing cavities to increasing self-confidence. My eye-teeth were growing straight out of my gums for Pete’s sake, so I feel quite sure that it changed my life for the better (even if I didn’t wear my retainer and my teeth have shifted into mild crookedness now). We also know that it can be wicked expensive and that insurance reimbursement is not a guarantee. But did you know that there are things you can address before you start orthodontia that will increase it’s success and staying power (and protect your investment)? And that it just so happens that speech-language pathologists can address many of these things? Well, it’s all true. We came up with our top 6 issues you should tackle before shelling out the cash for braces and such. Here are the first three . . .

1. Tongue Thrust

Tongue thrust is the term that’s used to refer to a specific swallowing pattern that involves the the tongue pushing through the front teeth. This is actually the way newborns are programmed to swallow because it allows for a good latch. If things go according to plan, this pattern is replaced by a more “mature” swallow that keeps the tongue tip on the roof of the mouth. If there’s a glitch, though, and the “immature” pattern sticks around too long, the tongue muscles can push the teeth out of alignment and into an open bite. Check out this video and you’ll have no trouble seeing how a lingering tongue thrust can completely undo all the work of orthodontia.

2. Thumb Sucking

This actually often goes hand in hand with tongue thrust. Many thumbsuckers (my former self included) place the tongue between the thumb and the bottom teeth. A proper swallow would require taking the thumb (or fingers) out of the mouth (the horror!), and so a tongue thrust is retained. Of course, this is a double-whammy, because the finger(s) or thumb also exerts their own force against the teeth, teaming up with the tongue to push the teeth out of alignment (and often into an open bite). Orthodontia fail.

3. Mouth Breathing

You might know that mouth breathing is detrimental to overall oral health. Poor gum health and increased plaque are common effects. But, I’d wager that you didn’t know that mouth breathing may even change the structure of a mouth. This is another case of the muscles of the mouth and face working against correct dental alignment. Mouth breathing sometimes has underlying causes like enlarged tonsils, and sometimes has more to do with facial structure. Whatever the cause, mouth breathing that continues during and after orthodontia will most certainly work against a long-term positive result.

Curious about numbers 4, 5, and 6? Read them here. And even if you decide not to read on, if you are considering orthodontia for your child and the little cherub demonstrates any/all of the above, get in touch with a speech-language pathologist ASAP. You’ll want to work with someone who has experience with oromyofacial therapy, so be sure to ask. And yes, it just so happens that we have folks on our staff that are experts at tackling this stuff! Contact us and we’ll work with you to make the most out of your orthodontia dollar.

Updated 5/27/16: We now have a downloadable, printable pdf with all of this information in 1 handy spot!