Shadowing a Doctor

April 13, 2016


Certain congenital conditions or cultivated habits can have an adverse effect on oral form and function, resulting in what is called a myofunctional disorder.

These disorders may be caused by several different factors from an obstructed nasal airway, genetic disposition and structural abnormalities to thumb-sucking, nail-biting and finger-sucking. Although there are several different forms of the disorder, all involve some abnormality in the amount of vertical space between the top and lower dental arches, which can have a significant impact on a person’s health and well-being.

Myofunctional therapy is a field of dentistry that focuses on normalising this space by ‘re-educating’ or ‘re-patterning’ the oral and facial muscles. This is an exercise-based treatment where patients are first made aware of the oral and facial muscles. The patient is then taught special exercises related to proper breathing, chewing, swallowing and speaking as well as proper tongue placement.

Inside a Myofunctional Therapist’s clinic

As a myofunctional therapist, your main goal would be to help your clients quit poor habit patterns such as thumb-sucking, tongue thrust and nail-biting and develop more positive patterns that restore balance to the mouth, face, neck, head and body.

During the first session with your client, you would ask questions to determine the cause of the disorder. Some of the things you would look for include:

• Mouth vs. nasal breathing
• Speech and articulation
• Facial structure
• Where the tongue rests in the mouth
• Tonsils and adenoids
• Orthodontic treatment
• Habits such as thumb or finger sucking or nail biting
• Head, neck and facial pain
• Jaw pain and dysfunction

Depending on the cause of the disorder and the resultant symptoms, you would teach your clients behaviour modification techniques and various facial and tongue exercises to promote proper tongue position and improved breathing, swallowing and chewing.

You would also help patients understand how proper head and neck posture could resolve numerous health issues from jaw problems and orthodontic relapse to saggy facial muscles.

In most cases, you would see a patient every week during the first three to six months, followed by monthly visits for at least another six months to a year.

Essential traits & skills

Thorough knowledge of the oro-facial muscles is essential. Several courses across the UK offer comprehensive training courses in the field of myofunctional therapy. These are typically five-day courses that teach qualified dentists how to recognise and treat myofunctional disorders and how to use therapy to rectify these disorders.

To work as a myofunctional therapist, you need to have outstanding analytical skills to be able to identify the exact cause of the problem and determine the correct exercise technique.

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are also important as a large part of the job involves explaining to patients where the problem lies and how to execute various exercises.

Although the training period to become a myofunctional therapist is not very long, you have to first complete your dental training before you can then do this advanced training programme. If you are unsure whether this is the right career path for you, it may be a good idea to obtain some dentistry work experience so you get a closer look at the profession and what it entails.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.