Much research shows that early humans had straight teeth, and that their wisdom teeth also grew in straight, with room to spare. In a few present-day non-industrial cultures, the same is true, but it’s becoming more and more rare. What does this mean for those who live in countries such as the US? What should parents know about their children’s facial growth and development? In this article we explore the answers to these questions.
What is malocclusion, and whom does it frequently affect?
Malocclusion (a misaligned bite) can include crooked teeth, open bite, overbite, or other possibilities. Most individuals in the US and other industrial nations today have some type of malocclusion.
Why is malocclusion prevalent in these areas?
In present-day, industrialized societies, three factors contribute significantly to malocclusion:
- Maternal nutrition during the first three months of pregnancy. K-vitamins are crucial for proper development of an unborn baby’s jaws and facial structure. Especially important are vitamin K2, found in organ meats and pasteurized dairy and eggs; and K1, found in green vegetables. The chance of some type of malocclusion in the developing baby rises when there is a maternal deficiency of these vitamins.
- Sucking habits between birth and age four. While breastfeeding helps to protect against malocclusion, bottle feeding, pacifiers, and finger sucking increase the risk. Cup feeding and specially designed orthodontic pacifiers may serve as acceptable alternatives.
- Softness or toughness of food. To develop correctly, the jaws require stress from chewing on tough food. This can contribute to the widening of the dental arch until an individual reaches the age of about 17. Recommended foods for exercising the jaws include raw fruits and vegetables; chewy, tough cuts of meat; beef jerky, and nuts. When a developing child’s diet includes a high percentage of soft foods, the dental arch may not widen sufficiently.
In contrast, more individuals in developing countries develop strong jaw muscles and wider dental arches due to a higher rate of breastfeeding, and from eating tougher foods after their teeth have erupted.
What can parents do to help their children to avoid malocclusion?
For those children in areas where breastfeeding and the introduction of tough foods in childhood are not always the case (such as in the US), early orthodontic intervention is important in helping them to develop proper occlusion. The majority of a child’s facial growth—60%—occurs by age 4. By age 6, 80% of the facial growth is complete, and by age 11, 90% of facial growth has occurred. For these reasons, it’s best to begin by age 4 in order to maximize a child’s ability and opportunity to develop proper occlusion during his or her facial growth.
What are the benefits of early intervention aimed at proper occlusion?
When we begin early enough with proper occlusion efforts, we can ultimately help children achieve proper facial development and balanced, well-rounded facial profiles. This provides sufficient airway capacity and maximized breathing ability, which are crucial to restful, restorative sleep. The ability to get regular, restful sleep positively affects children’s behavior and ability to focus in school. Sufficient airway capacity also plays a part in an individual’s center of gravity and sense of balance.
At Winchester Dental, we are experienced in working with young children and providing them the orthodontic intervention they need during their critical growth periods. Beginning by age 4 minimizes the time and intervention needed to help guide a child’s growth and development to its maximum genetic potential.
We thank Victor D. Woodlief, DMD for kindly sharing the information for this article.