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Signs of Improper Oral Resting Posture


What is “Oral resting posture”?

Oral resting posture refers to the position of the jaw and tongue during daily activities – while you’re watching TV, riding in the car, or even sleeping. Most people are probably unaware of their oral resting posture unless it is brought to their attention. Take a minute to think about what your mouth is doing while you are reading this. How are you breathing; through your nose or mouth? Are your lips closed? Where do you feel your tongue? Do you feel any strain or tightness in your face or jaw?

Proper oral resting posture is achieved when the following is present:

  • mouth is closed with teeth touching (or just slightly apart)
  • lips are closed
  • tongue is resting on the roof of your mouth (the hard palate) 
  • nasal breathing

What Does Improper Oral Resting Posture look like?

How can you tell if you or your child has improper oral resting posture? Here are a few things to look for:

  • Open mouth breathing during the day or night
  • Inability to close lips fully
  • Jaw shifted to either side
  • Long narrow facial structure
  • Tongue resting low in mouth or protruding forward (sometimes referred to as tongue thrust)
  • Snoring
  • Drooling

What Can Cause Improper Oral Resting Posture?

While there are a wide range of contributing factors, the most common cause of improper oral resting posture stems from airway issues. Our bodies rely on oxygen to live. Decreased ability to breathe through the nose due to chronic allergies, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, or structural abnormalities such as a deviated septum, can cause our body to select the path of least resistance — breathing through the mouth. 

Other common contributing factors to improper oral resting posture include poor oral habits such as prolonged pacifier use, thumb or finger sucking, and nail biting. These habits, when done frequently enough, can change the shape of the oral cavity by disrupting development, resulting in changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth and position of teeth. 

Structural abnormalities such as a tongue or lip tie can also contribute to improper oral resting posture.  If the tissues that connect your tongue to the floor of the mouth are too tight, it can restrict the range of motion of your tongue, causing it to rest low on the floor of your mouth instead of on the roof of your mouth. As a child’s facial structure grows and develops, the slight pressure of the tongue against the hard palate determines the shape of the palate. The tongue resting low in the mouth can disrupt proper development of the hard palate. 

Why is Oral Resting Posture Important?

While you may not realize it, improper oral resting posture can have an impact on many areas of your life. Mouth breathing has been linked to increased illnesses and allergies. When breathing through the nose, the nose acts as a filter to help keep harmful particles from entering your lungs. The  nose also acts as a humidifier, adding moisture and warming the air you breathe in. When you breathe through your mouth, you do not have these added healthy benefits. 

Tongue position has been linked to sleep disordered breathing such as obstructive sleep apnea which can lead to poor sleep. Sleep is important for our bodies to recharge and heal. Poor sleep is linked to a variety of long term health problems. 

Improper oral resting posture can also cause dysfunction of the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ are the joints connecting your jaw to your skull, right in front of your ears. Dysfunction of the TMJ can lead to chronic jaw pain, neck pain, or headaches. 

Improper oral resting posture impacts the growth of jaw and facial structures and can cause delayed or improper development, potentially leading to difficulties with chewing and swallowing. An open mouth posture can also result in dry mouth and overall poor oral hygiene. 

What Can You Do To Improve Oral Resting Posture?

Oral resting posture is addressed by a professional trained in orofacial myology. These professionals are typically speech language pathologists (SLP) or registered dental hygienists (RDH) who have experience in this area.  Orofacial myofunctional therapy is often completed as part of a multidisciplinary team including dentists, orthodontists, ENTs, sleep specialists, and body workers such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, or chiropractors. 

After an airway issue has been ruled out (typically by an ENT or Dentist), an orofacial myofunctional therapist will develop a treatment program to help strengthen and retrain the muscles of your face and mouth. The main goals of orofacial myofunctional therapy are to:

  1. Correct oral resting posture
  2. Teach nasal breathing 
  3. Eliminate poor oral habits 
  4. Correct chewing and swallowing patterns. 

Myofunctional therapists treat patients throughout the lifespan, starting around 4 years old. 

If you are concerned about your child’s or your own oral rest posture, here are a few things to try:

    • Bring awareness to your oral posture — where do you feel your teeth, tongue, and lips when at rest? 
    • Notice times that you are not breathing through your nose. Attempt to close your mouth and see if you can continue breathing easily.  
    • Build strength in your oral muscles by eating a variety of non-processed whole foods and chewing foods thoroughly on both sides of the mouth before swallowing. 
    • Most importantly, if you have concerns regarding oral resting posture, schedule an appointment for an evaluation with an orofacial myofunctional therapist for further guidance. 

Angela Baker, M.S. CCC-SLP