An Evolving Problem

October 30, 2020
Avatar for Raul GarciaRaul Garcia

Sleep apnea, chronic mouth breathing, obesity, memory problems, poor oral health, behavior disorders and bedwetting. While these conditions might not seem to be connected, you may be surprised to find out that they may be strangely related. And you may be even more surprised to find that how they are connected is through the jaw. 

More specifically, the size of the jaw. 

Over the last two and a half centuries, humans’ skull size and the jaw length have changed significantly. And not for the better. 

Some research studies have suggested that crooked teeth, overbites and underbites, narrow nasal airways, and midface deficiency, medically known as midface hypoplasia — a situation in which the upper jaw, cheekbones and eye sockets do not grow as much as the rest of the face — are relatively recent in human development. And by recent, we mean in the last 250 years. 

Before the shift in skull and jaw size, skeletal remains have shown that humans generally had straight teeth and jaws that aligned perfectly. Palates were flatter, jaws were more expansive, and nasal passages allowed for proper nasal breathing. The third molars, commonly called the wisdom teeth, were functioning and had plenty of room in the mouth, a highly unusual situation in our modern age. 

Today, our skulls have changed so much that high, narrow palates are commonplace. Lower jaws are short and, as a result, offer limited space for permanent teeth, which can lead to crowding and misalignment. These situations mean an increased risk of jaw problems and the issues we mentioned above, such as mouth breathing, sleep apnea, behavioral issues, anxiety, cognitive impairment, obesity and a slew of chronic health issues. 

Changes in skull development have also often contributed to oral health issues, costly orthodontic treatment and, in some cases, even surgery to change jaw size or remove tonsils and adenoids.

Side effects of underdeveloped jaws include jaw pain, chronic headaches, sinus congestion, allergies, asthma and sleep issues. 

So, What Made Jaws Shrink? 

According to some researchers, the change in skull development occurred during the Industrial Revolution when women went to work in factories. 

How could this alter skull development and cause crooked teeth, narrow jaws and impacted nasal airways? 

Some scholars point to the impact of industrialization on breastfeeding and weaning. Before industrialization, babies nursed on-demand while also eating solid foods. But as women began to work outside of the home, bottle feeding, pacifiers, and very soft, processed — and not-so-healthy — food changed the need for chewing and affected the mouth’s shape and overall facial development. 

Industrialization isn’t the only factor; environmental pollutants and recirculated air have also impacted growing skulls in utero.

These factors impact open mouth posture, cause poor tongue-positioning habits and negatively affect the development of the face, causing side effects such as: 

  • High, narrow palate
  • Deviated septum
  • Very narrow jaws
  • Mid-face deficiency
  • A face that appears flat
  • A very long and narrow face
  • Thin lips
  • A “weak” or set-back chin
  • Cheeks that are sunken in 
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Headaches
  • Chronic neck and shoulder pain 
  • Poor posture
  • Dental health problems such as tooth crowding, bite malocclusion (unbalanced bite) and impacted teeth

Without intervention, these issues don’t go away on their own; in fact, they often worsen and lead to more serious problems in both childhood and adulthood. Early dentists and orthodontists knew this, as evidenced by dental journals that advised dentists to treat irregular facial structures at a young age and focused on the importance of nasal breathing and wide dental arches. 

But the focus on these factors diminished in the 1940s. Instead of expanding the palate, the emphasis on treatment shifted to dental extractions and surgery to make everything fit in the mouth with little regard to impact on the airway, jaw joints or overall health. 

The Big Picture of Shrinking Jaws

So, why are we telling you this? The implications of incorrectly developed jaws are significant and have serious health consequences. 

Without proper development, the tongue does not rest appropriately against the mouth’s roof and cannot push food correctly to the esophagus. This creates a lack of regular stimulation for the palate and an absence of exercise for the lower jaw, which causes growth to stop. 

When the jaw does not grow correctly and ends up too short or too narrow, the tongue rests against the lower teeth, which results in mouth breathing. Additionally, when a person with a too narrow or too short jaw lies down to sleep, the tongue can fall back to block the airway, causing interruptions in breathing known as apneas. 

These apneas can reduce blood oxygen levels, cause high blood pressure and put the body in distress. Sleep apnea can contribute to other serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. 

Obstructive sleep apnea affects millions of Americans, putting them at risk of serious health issues. 

Children and Undersized Jaws

Undersized jaws are a risk factor for serious health problems at any age — even childhood. These health problems include:

  • Expressive language impairment
  • Speech delay
  • Difficulty grasping new concepts
  • Problems in school
  • Mood swings
  • Behavior disorders
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tantrums and outbursts
  • Tongue-tie
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Bedwetting well beyond potty-training years 
  • Growth problems
  • Failure to thrive
  • Mouth breathing
  • Bite malocclusion
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Common side effects of underdeveloped jaws include chronic throat infections, a weakened immune system, tonsilitis, inflammation and poor oral health, resulting in tooth decay, tooth loss, gum disease and other dental health problems. 

Can Evolution Be Overcome?

If your jaw did not correctly develop, there is hope! This hope comes in the form of facial growth orthodontics, a modern approach to orthodontic treatment that achieves beautiful and straight teeth that fit correctly into the smile and maximizes the jaw’s intended genetic potential. 

Facial growth orthodontics increases the size of the jaw (or guides the jaw) to avoid extractions, retractions and, in most cases, invasive treatments. Increasing the jaw’s size means the mid-face region becomes fuller, and the result is a more balanced and youthful appearance for you. Proper oral rest posture is achieved, mouth breathing resolves, and the risk of oral and overall health issues lessens. 

Facial growth orthodontics can be used for both adults and children.

Do you see the signs of jaw growth problems, such as mouth breathing, stunted facial development, sleep apnea or bite problems? We can help. Call us today at 305-595-4616 for more information about facial growth orthodontics. 

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