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Question & Answer - Oral Sensory-Motor, Myofunctional, Vocal Tract, & Airway Information



What is Resting Mouth Position, and Why Does It Matter?

By Heidi Maloney, MA, Speech-Language Pathologist in Wakefield, RI

March 2016



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Resting mouth position indicates the position of our oral structures (tongue, lips, jaw) when we are not actively using them to talk, eat, etc.  It is typically automatic for our oral structures to rest in a manner that is most beneficial to facial structure and for important functions such as speaking, eating, drinking, and swallowing.  However, if there is some type of sensory and/or motor disorder, our muscles and structures do not automatically do what they are supposed to do, and our resting mouth posture is one that can actually cause or exacerbate symptoms like drooling, orthodontic issues, and improper balance of facial structures.  This is especially important during the childhood years because this is when our structures and musculature are more flexible and still forming. 

 

Without thinking about it too much, take a moment to notice and feel where your oral structures are at rest.  You are not talking, eating, or drinking.  You have relaxed breathing in and out through your nose.  Is your mouth closed with your lips together in a relaxed manner?  Is your tongue resting comfortably along your palate (i.e., roof of your mouth)?  Is your upper and lower jaw separated with back teeth slightly apart?  If not, do not be alarmed.  There are simple ways of modifying our resting mouth posture, but we must be cognizant of what we are doing wrong and how to correctly rest our oral structures. 

 

The following are important for good resting mouth position:

-Mouth is closed and lips are together (without straining).

-Breathing is occurring in and out through the nose. 

-The tongue is relaxed along palate with the posterior 2/3 of the tongue pulled back and the tongue tip resting BEHIND (but NOT pushing against) the top, front teeth.

 

Most of us never think of this unless there is evidence of improper mouth posture that must be corrected.  This can occur many times as a symptom of a disorder, syndrome, or condition (such as asthma or allergies).   For example, many children with Down syndrome have atypical oral structures that make proper resting mouth posture difficult to achieve until trained to do so.  An example of this is a low tone tongue, which can cause the child to hold the mouth open with the tongue protruding.  Another example is a child who we would call a mouth breather due to allergies, asthma, or enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.  This child holds his or her mouth open to breathe easier. 

 

The following are examples of improper resting mouth position:

-Mouth is open at rest.

-Mouth breathing.

-Tongue is either protruding or tongue tip is pushing against front teeth.

-Lower jaw is hanging forward.

 

Improper resting mouth position can impact many areas of developing facial and oral structure and function causing:

-Orthodontic problems (crowded teeth, under bite, over bite, protruding front teeth, etc.).

-TMJD (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder).

-Speech articulation issues.

-Tongue thrust swallow and orofacial muscular imbalance.

-Abnormally developed facial features (e.g., long face syndrome, protruding features of the jaw/lips, and even malformed nose, neck, and shoulders).  These problems are due to improper balance of the forces of the tongue, jaw, cheeks, and lips.  The tongue is often considered by many orofacial myofunctional therapists as the most important structure in properly anchoring the jaw and neck, so our facial features grow as genetically planned. Although, if the jaw is not doing what it needs to be doing, the lips and tongue cannot do what they need to do. So, it is the chicken and the egg.

 

If your child is displaying symptoms of improper resting mouth posture, an appropriately-trained speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help to determine which structures are being affected and work on therapies to address these issues.  The SLP may also make referrals to an occupational therapist, orthodontist, or orofacial myofunctional therapist for other specific therapies.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Heidi Maloney is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in childhood speech disorders and assistive technology.  She currently works at a charter school with children grades K-5 and also runs an outpatient practice called Speech Teach Therapy in Wakefield, RI.  

 

Heidi also designs speech therapy apps with Abitalk Mobile Education Apps (http://www.abitalk.com/).  Her current apps include: Comprehension Builder, Comprehension Builder 2, Multisyllabic, and Lisp Therapy.

 

Heidi is dedicated to collaborating with other speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, other specialists, and parents to build a network of sharing, learning, and awareness to help children with special needs.  She has a group page on Facebook called SLPs Care & Share for speech-language pathologists, parents, and caregivers.  Visit her at http://www.speechteachtherapy.com/ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/speechteachtherapy.