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Human Jaws Are Shrinking. How to Keep Your Children Healthy

Simple steps can help your young child develop strong, healthy jaws for optimal breathing, growth, and development.

Shrinking human jaws are the culprit behind a number of health issues. But you can take some basic easy steps to help your young children to reach their full growth, development, and breathing potential, for the best chance at excellent overall health.

Why are human jaws shrinking?

Several factors have contributed to shrinking jaws. The first of these may be human evolution. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, as human ancestors were evolving to modern Homo sapiens, their heads became rounder and their faces became smaller, explains this article in BioScience. As they began pursuit hunting, they breathed through their mouths while they ran long distances. It is believed that over time, repeated mouth breathing led to human faces—including jaws—becoming smaller in order to help stabilize the head. This gradual decrease in jaw and head size has in turn reduced airway development in humans.

More recently, human behavior has changed dramatically. We’re chewing less because our diets have softened. Processed food, once considered a novelty, is now readily available and affordable. As a species, we’re now more sedentary than our human ancestors, and even the way we sleep—on comfortable mattresses and pillows, rather than on the ground—contributes to “bad oral posture,” which promotes mouth breathing.

What kinds of health problems do shrinking jaws cause?

The issue of smaller jaws and more mouth breathing has led to a rise in the need for orthodontic treatment and the removal of wisdom teeth, as well as obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea carries its own set of related health issues, including excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, memory problems, weight gain, impotency in men, and increased stress due to sleep deprivation. Increased stress can, in adults, lead to a higher risk of cancer, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Alzheimer’s disease. Children with excessive stress are at a greater risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

(Read our related blog post: The Importance of Nasal Breathing)

Can my dentist help?

Your dentist may offer oral appliance therapy or laser treatments for sleep issues including snoring; and orthodontic treatment including traditional braces and Myobrace® for crooked teeth and misaligned jaws. These treatments are frequently quite effective for older children, teenagers, and adults. But if you have a baby or a young child, the best way to avoid the need for these kinds of treatments is to do all you can to promote optimal development of their jaws, which will increase their airway development, for maximum breathing potential.

What can I do to help my child’s jaws develop to their full potential?

You can help your baby or young child toward maximum development and better breathing by taking these simple steps.

  • As your baby transitions to eating solid food and her teeth begin to appear, encourage chewing by giving less mushy food.
  • Schedule your child’s first dentist appointment before age 1.
  • For children as young as age 2, ask your dentist about exercises to promote proper breathing and swallowing patterns to promote jaw growth.
  • Offer your toddler natural, healthy snacks that require chewing, such as cut fresh fruits and vegetables.
    When your child is old enough chew gum without swallowing it, encourage her to chew sugar-free gum.
  • If you notice that your child is snoring or mouth breathing, tell your pediatrician and your child’s dentist right away.

By taking these easy, everyday actions, you can help your child develop strong, healthy jaws and optimal breathing. Your dentist can play a key role in giving your child a beautiful smile and providing her the best chance at reaching full growth potential and excellent overall health. We’re rooting for you!