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Why Malocclusion Was not an Issue For our Ancestors

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Well-aligned dental arches from the year 1600. (Credit: Juha Varrela)

In the 1930s, Canadian dentist and researcher Weston Price noticed that, while problems such as cavities and infected gums were much more common in the past, malocclusion—which affects one in five Americans today—was not an issue for our ancestors. The main reason behind their perfectly aligned teeth and uniform bites was the bigger size of their jaws and mouths compared to now. But why did our jaws and mouths become smaller in the last century or two?

 

Reasons abound: our modern mushy diet—very different from the rustic meat and fibrous fruits and vegetables that our ancestors used to eat—doesn’t demand, and consequently does not produce, large and strong jaws with a full array of teeth that chew every mouthful of food 15 to 20 times. Vitamin deficiency (especially vitamins A, D and K2) may also have a role in this phenomenon. Also, fewer women these days breastfeed their infants which leads to less development of babies’ facial muscles, since nursing from a bottle requires less effort than breastfeeding.

The biggest problem is that narrower jaws and mouths lead not only to malocclusion but also to bad positioning of the tongue—a key element in proper breathing and facial growth development, which in turn leads to the numerous problems of poor sleep for human health. It is intriguing that, almost a century after Price’s studies, treatments commonly used for malocclusion ignore these findings and focus only on teeth realignment or, much worse, on the archaic and harmful practice of extraction of healthy teeth.

By the time a person is 12 years old, 90% of the cranial structure is formed. That is why the best time to start the treatment once a diagnosis is made is around five years old. But adults can benefit immensely from significant space gains inside the mouth and airways. Breathing quality can improve by 50%.”

“Both medicine and dentistry still tend to focus on symptoms rather than on causes,” said Martin N. Gorman, Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) with over 40 years of experience. “Also, there is still a strong belief among dentists that facial shape and dentition are determined genetically and not much can be done apart from fixing the aesthetics of the smile. The size of our teeth is determined by genetics, but the increasingly common lack of space for them is a biological problem arising from a number of factors linked to our environment and lifestyle. As a rule, orthodontics today offers a purely mechanical approach to a problem that is biological in nature and should be treated on a biological basis,” he added.

Space Gains

Dr. Gorman created a cranial osteopathy-based orthodontic system that uses a custom-made appliance of light, flexible and virtually invisible wire. It applies subtle pressure to the bones, teeth and gums, mimicking the natural growth and development of facial structures. The Advanced Lightweight Functionals (ALF), as it is called, can benefit patients of all ages, but only younger children can expect significant changes in facial balance. “By the time a person is 12 years old, 90% of the cranial structure is formed. That is why the best time to start the treatment once a diagnosis is made is around five years old. But adults can benefit immensely from significant space gains inside the mouth and airways. Breathing quality can improve by 50%, not much less than the 62% observed in children,” he explained.

 

Our modern mushy diet and vitamin deficiency may have a role

Another big advantage of the ALF system is that dental retainers are rarely necessary once the treatment is finished. “The tongue and the facial muscles should be able to hold our teeth where they are. The only reason this doesn’t happen is the poor use we make of our teeth and jaws. That is why re-educating patients, so they can breathe and chew correctly, is a key part of the treatment,” he said.

In the book Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic, released last year, dentist Sandra Kahn and biologist Paul R. Ehrlich point out the need for cultural shifts such as promoting awareness of issues such as breastfeeding, solid food weaning, the importance of promoting chewing in diets, prevention of breathing through the mouth and ensuring free nasal airways.

 

Featured image: Masticatory Function and Malocclusion: A Clinical Perspective, Juha Varrela


About the Author

A native of São Paulo, Ana Luiza Daltro is a former economics and business reporter from VEJA magazine who currently writes for three e-magazines within VirtualExpo group.

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