Purpose: Orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) is a modality of treatment for children and adults with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to promote changes in the musculature of the upper airways. This review summarizes and discusses the effects of OMT on OSA, the therapeutic programs employed, and their possible mechanisms of action.
Methods: We conducted an online literature search using the databases MEDLINE/PubMed, EMBASE, and Web of Science. Search terms were "obstructive sleep apnea" in combination with "myofunctional therapy" OR "oropharyngeal exercises" OR "speech therapy". We considered original articles in English and Portuguese containing a diagnosis of OSA based on polysomnography (PSG). The primary outcomes of interest for this review were objective measurement derived from PSG and subjective sleep symptoms. The secondary outcome was the evaluation of orofacial myofunctional status.
Results: Eleven studies were included in this review. The studies reviewed reveal that several benefits of OMT were demonstrated in adults, which include significant decrease of apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), reduced arousal index, improvement in subjective symptoms of daytime sleepiness, sleep quality, and life quality. In children with residual apnea, OMT promoted a decrease of AHI, increase in oxygen saturation, and improvement of orofacial myofunctional status. Few of the studies reviewed reported the effects of OMT on the musculature.
Conclusion: The present review showed that OMT is effective for the treatment of adults in reducing the severity of OSA and snoring, and improving the quality of life. OMT is also successful for the treatment of children with residual apnea. In addition, OMT favors the adherence to continuous positive airway pressure. However, randomized and high-quality studies are still rare, and the effects of treatment should also be analyzed on a long-term basis, including measures showing if changes occurred in the musculature.
Keywords: myofunctional therapy; oral motor exercises; oropharyngeal exercises; sleep-disordered breathing; speech therapy.