The story behind crooked teeth and sleep disorders

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

There is now a connection between sleep apnea and crowded or crooked teeth. Fortunately, anthropologists have the answer: Our heads are shrinking! Our hat sizes are not getting smaller, but our mid-faces have changed remarkably over the past few centuries. The upper jaw, referred to as the maxilla, is the bone that makes the roof of the mouth and floor of the sinuses and supports the upper teeth. Anthropologists monitoring our growth and development have documented changes as we became more civilized. The results are crowded, crooked teeth, and an increase in breathing disorders.

The change is attributed to changes in breastfeeding frequency and food choices. In breastfeeding, the strong upward and forward movement of the baby’s tongue is a workout. Traditionally, this process occurs for 10 to 15 minutes every two hours and strengthens the tongue.

The strong tongue muscle influences the development of the roof of the mouth and the floor of our sinus. When breastfeeding does not occur, the volume necessary for the strong tongue is diminished, and bones do not develop as they normally would. The width, length, and height of the palate are affected, and typically, all become smaller. The result is crowded teeth and compensatory breathing through the mouth.

When a child learns to breathe predominantly through the mouth, there is a very predictable phenotypical pattern. The palate has a very narrow and high arch. The distance between the first molars is diminished. Remember, the roof of the mouth is also the floor of the sinus. The bone that normally would be broad and flat is now taking up the space of the sinus cavity. Kids who mouth breathe have drastically higher rates of restless sleep, difficulty in school, ADD/ADHD, lower IQ, chronic allergies, crowded teeth, dark circles under their eyes, swollen tonsils, drowsiness, and aggressive behavior.

Mouth breathers are also shallow breathers, using the upper respiratory muscles and not the deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing. Thus, mouth breathing can also increase the likelihood of upper respiratory infections.

As health professionals for families, we lookout for our patients’ overall wellbeing. We share this information to help parents understand the connection between breastfeeding and potential health issues.