In this month’s professional profile, I would like to bring attention to an individual who embodies these traits. Kristie Gatto is not only a successful SLP (speech language pathologist), but she is also a lifelong student, a business owner, and an accomplished author. Ms. Gatto’s career delineates a deliberate and methodical approach to improving oneself. To better understand the nature of the pathological elements that the orofacial myologist must address, Ms. Gatto devoted thousands of hours to reading research materials which identified exactly how dysfunction develops throughout the orofacial region from a physiological and anatomical perspective. She is driven to know, explain, and illustrate the relationships that disparate units of the orofacial complex can have when they are underdeveloped and/or when deleterious behavior negatively impacts anatomical function
The pursuit of continuous education and professional excellence are important pillars, but the foundational stone of orofacial myology is the desire to be prolific in addressing clinical issues that patients bring one’s way. Ultimately, the orofacial myologist’s purpose is to incapacitate the patient’s pain and discomfort by teaching them how to overcome potentially debilitating behaviors/habits which frequently inhibit the execution of vital functions! Maladaptive orofacial behaviors (including non-nutritive sucking, mouth breathing, tongue thrusting, etc.) can significantly alter the musculature, structure, and function of the orofacial complex. A myofunctional therapist must be aware of exactly how to address a patient’s unique condition as there is no universal treatment solution.
With an ever growing spotlight on orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs) and their impact on overall well being, the orofacial myologist must be committed to continuous education. Research demonstrates that focusing on an isolated behavior, such as tongue thrust, is not nearly as effective a treatment plan as addressing the multiple interrelated factors which arise from and/or precipitate the behavior. Additionally, there are concepts, such as compensation, dissociation, impact of motor reflexes, and congenital neurological conditions that have slowly, but steadily received increasing attention from research in an attempt to illustrate a comprehensive view of the cause and effects behind (OMDs). A successful myofunctional therapist is aware of these advances. Awareness is not circumscribed to the orofacial myologist by any means!
In this day and age, parents are increasingly coming into offices with questions, having done some preliminary investigative work. Iit is incumbent upon the myofunctional therapist to stride over some of the comfortable boundaries he/she may have in respect to being researchers and lifelong students. One of Ms. Gatto’s contributions to the field of orofacial myology is The Orofacial Complex The Evolution of dysfunction. This insightful tool effectively illustrates the various muscles, structures, and co-relational functions of the orofacial complex. With over 170 pages, The Orofacial Complex outlines everything from terminology to the interconnections between the facial/cranial nerves and the specific muscles of each orofacial structure. Detailed pictures of muscles and bones add color and stunning visual cues, in addition to functional significance assessments, and real life implications of abnormalities. This manual is comprehensive in tying together the phenomenon of various organs/muscles and how dysfunction within each potentially leads to OMDs.
After obtaining her certification in Orofacial Myology, administered through the IAOM (International Association of Orofacial Myology), Ms. Gatto dedicated her professional life to improving people’s quality of life. She has been a strong promoter of interdisciplinary relationships ranging between hospital based teams, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, neurologists, otolaryngologists, orthodontists, pediatric dentists, pediatricians, and myofunctional therapists . Orofacial myology encourages a collaborative atmosphere of professionals as a means of addressing not only the noxious habits people have come to practice, but also the anatomical etiologies behind those behaviors. Often times, the habits are merely an individual’s attempt to achieve an acceptable degree of function. Compensation is the result of an individual’s desire to achieve function to the very best of their ability!
The logic behind having a team approach is to ensure that each aspect of pathology is appropriately addressed. Myofunctional therapists for habituation and behavior modification, surgeons for surgical interventions, psychologists for the process of transition and healing, nutritionists for implementation of a balanced and healthy diet, and pharmacists to ameliorate any pain or discomfort after a surgical intervention. The more facets that are covered by the team, the more successful the outcome. The orofacial myologist’s goal is to assist the patients transition into a healed, healthy, and vibrant human being. This is the benchmark of care and what each service provider must strive for.