The benefits of breastfeeding may not be immediately obvious, but science continues to show that for the infant, positive effects extend into adulthood. Many medical studies back up this claim.
For instance, breastfed babies as a population have higher IQ scores than bottle-fed babies. Also, a mother passes her antibodies to her infant when breastfeeding, and this makes the infant more resistant to infection. But these are just two examples.
Today, we’re focusing on what dentistry and breastfeeding have in common.
Oro-facial Development in Humans
Breastfeeding plays a significant role in orofacial development. In 1987, researchers found that the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the incidence of malocclusion (bad bite).
They also found that bottle-fed babies often have forward tongue thrust, which contributes to malocclusion and difficulties swallowing. Studies show that with longer durations of breastfeeding, reductions in tongue thrusting fell.
One of the primary concerns over the past 10 years has been sleep-breathing disorders (SBD) in children.
When a child breastfeeds, the mother’s nipple is pulled into the mouth and pressed up against the palate, the baby’s muscles work hard to express milk. Pressure against the palate widens and expands it. The baby’s jaw and bony sutures of the mouth are pulled in such a way that more bone grows, and jaws are widened.
The work of the child’s mouth muscles and tongue, and pressure on the palate, prompt more bone to be deposited along the suture lines of the mouth as it develops, thus widening the maxilla and the mandible.
To breastfeed, a child needs the ability to suck, swallow, and breathe through the nose, all at the same time. This can be hard or even impossible for premature infants and babies with hypotonia. Orofacial myofunctional therapy can help increase muscle tone, but the window of opportunity to start breastfeeding is so short that many babies who can’t seem to breastfeed are bottle fed instead.
Breastfeeding infants is a primary factor in facial development because the newborn’s sucking actions develops muscles critical to proper airway development.
Changes in Culture, Changes in Biology
During the industrial revolution, infant formulas and convenience foods, such as soft baby cereals, were developed. Soft, processed foods required preserving. This meant adding chemicals, which put the human diet farther and farther from nature, where it began.
Over the decades, more women worked out of the home, and breastfeeding fell out of favor. More fast foods became available, and busy families began to rely on them as a staple of the American diet. A soft diet didn’t require us to chew as vigorously as an all-natural diet, which consists of many crunchy veggies and chewy meats. Think about it, a hamburger and fries are much easier to chew than a steak and peel-on baked potato.
Bottle feeding and a softer diet have had a significant impact on human facial structure. In today’s Western world, jaws are narrower and pushed back, noses are pushed in, and faces are longer and narrower.
These altered facial characteristics coincide with a rounded, forward shoulder posture as well as a forward head posture. A jaw that does not develop forward during childhood will often continue to recede throughout life.
Changing Faces of the Western World
In an anthropologic study of humans over the last 10,000 years, there has been an epigenetic effect due to soft diets. This, not genetics, has caused smaller faces and narrower jaws.
In fact, a university study shows this. Populations unaffected by western culture had virtually no malocclusions. However, as people began to eat the soft, sugary foods of industrialized cultures, within one generation 50% developed malocclusions. Within two generations it was 75%, and within three generations of an industrialized western diet, 85% had malocclusions.
The Dental-Facial Connection to Breastfeeding and Soft Diets
Smaller jaws leave less room for teeth, which causes crowding. They also leave less room for the tongue, forcing it backwards, especially during sleep, where it tends to block the airway. In the last 200 years and in particularly the last 35 years, our faces have generally flattened and narrowed. We’re slowly developing bulldog-like faces as our noses and sinuses are increasingly pushed inward. These changes make nasal breathing difficult and cause airway issues, such as sleep apnea.
Correcting Our Own Mistakes
Although we’ve strayed from what nature intended, modern dentistry has provided a way to correct dental, oral, and facial abnormalities. Dr. Jobst offers restorative dentistry, orthodontics, and sleep apnea treatment to help people overcome handicaps our own culture initiated. If you’d like to learn more about restorative and cosmetic dentistry or sleep apnea treatment, call us today to schedule your consultation with Dr. Karl Jobst.