Equalization – a complex movement that uses muscles in the tongue, soft palate, and larynx to allow air to pass from the oral and nasal cavities into the middle ears to equalize internal pressure with external pressure – is one of the many functions of the orofacial muscular system. This system also allows you to breathe, chew, swallow, and speak.
What happens when proper orofacial development does not occur, and these muscles do not attain their intended potential?
As a baby is born and develops into maturity, some important developmental milestones of the orofacial system should happen according to the evolutionary plan. For example, the tongue of the baby should strengthen with each breastfeeding session and lead to its eventual resting placement on the roof of the mouth.
Ask any mother, and you will know that after a breastfeeding session, the baby is exhausted and develops a bond with the mother from being held close to her heart for every meal. This exhaustion comes from the pumping effort of the tongue needed for the mother’s milk to be expressed. With this initial training, the tongue continues in its development into an adult swallow and finds its resting position on the hard palate.
In a growing child, this resting tongue posture on the hard palate guides the growth of the teeth on the upper jaw, ensuring a wide arch with enough space for all permanent teeth to develop. The tongue guides the face to grow forward instead of downward, which happens when a child has a habit of breathing through the mouth, with the tongue down and lips apart. Subsequently, hard foods are introduced into the child’s diet, and the chewing of hard food allows the jaws to strengthen and the skull bones to develop to their full potential.
Conversely, a baby who was never breastfed, fed pureed foods for prolonged periods, or had allergies that cause him to mouth breathe may miss these orofacial developmental milestones leading to the development of crooked teeth, recessed faces, and jaw joint issues. Without the right oral posture guiding the growth of the mouth, the jaws do not come forward to their rightful positions, are recessed into the face, leading to a narrowed pharynx. Hence, many children, teenagers, and adults develop sleep-disordered breathing patterns, such as bruxism, clenching, snoring and sleep apnea. Inability to breathe normally during sleep can lead to delayed development in children, learning disabilities, and conditions like ADHD. In adults, without quality sleep, fatigue ensues, and one never feels rested regardless of how much rest one takes.
What is myofunctional therapy, and what has it got to do with equalization?
We are aware that muscles of our bodies – our core, upper and lower body, can be weak from a lack of use. And some of us exercise regularly to keep ourselves fit and strong by going to the gym or playing sports. But did you know that muscles of our mouth and faces also can be exercised and strengthened to improve the functions for which these muscle groups are responsible?
Orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), or the “neuro-muscular re-education of the oral facial muscles,” is a fairly new allied health discipline that treats health issues like obstructive sleep apnea that develop due to the improper functioning of the tongue and facial muscles. Through an exercise plan for the orofacial system, muscles of the lips, tongue, cheeks, jaws, and neck are systematically strengthened to improve breathing, chewing, swallowing, and speech production.
While myofunctional therapy is used to treat many problems such as a compromised airway, mouth breathing, habitual open mouth posture with poor lip seal, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, tongue-ties (ankyloglossia), snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, and never explicitly said to benefit equalization of the ears. From my experience with myofunctional therapy, I find that it has huge potential for helping with equalization issues.
Every equalization technique involves the orofacial muscular and nervous system – the Frenzel requires you to use the muscles of the tongue, the Mouthfill requires you to use the muscles of your tongue and cheeks, the Hands Free (BTV/VTO) requires you to use the muscles of your soft palate.
Through myofunctional exercises that develop the strength of the tongue and other orofacial muscles, one can increase the strength, flexibility, and coordination of the muscles involved in equalization. Over time, one develops better proprioception and coordination of the use of muscles of the tongue, lips, pharynx, and throat.
What is Equalization Gym?
Equalization Gym is an innovative self-help course that puts myofunctional therapy tools in the hands of students who wants to improve their equalization ability.
Each course unit begins with an introduction to an orofacial system and teaches one how to self-diagnose potential issues that can hinder equalization. Subsequently, exercises are taught to help students work out specific muscle groups involved in equalization, and self-massages are taught to help students release tension perennially held in muscles caused by poor muscular habits.
Through the course, students are exposed to the latest orofacial myofuncional knowledge, exercises, and massage techniques that may improve their chances of learning any equalization technique better. They are also pointed in directions they can take to improve their overall orofacial function and hence improve their health and well-being.