Understand the Root Cause
A healthy airway is the foundation for optimal health at any age and is the foundation for orthodontic treatment. addressing and treating the underlying cause, not just the symptoms. We now know from extensive research that any initial signs of crooked or crowded teeth or incorrect bite positions mean that the jaws are not growing properly. Crooked teeth are only ONE of the many symptoms that signal a poor growth and development pattern. The underlying causes can be improper oral habits such as breathing through your mouth instead of your nose and developing an incorrect swallowing pattern.
Treat the Foundation
A healthy airway is the foundation for optimal health at any age and is the foundation for our orthodontic treatment goals:
- A Well-Balanced Esthetic Face
- Healthy Jaw Joints
- A Beautiful Smile That Lasts a Lifetime
- A Healthier Airway
Correct Tongue Resting Position
The upper jaw grows properly when you breathe through your nose and your tongue positions naturally in and on the roof of your mouth– this is known as the “correct tongue resting position” (imagine an image of a car parked in a garage.) The properly positioned tongue is the actual physical scaffolding for a full wide upper jaw and straight teeth to develop around. When breathing out of your mouth, your tongue automatically drops down and hangs low; as a result, the top jaw narrows and the arch “collapses.” When this happens, the teeth have less room and space available in the dental arch and become crowded in order to try to fit (imagine the walls of the parking garage “cave in” and as a result, the same size car cannot fit inside.)
Because many of the bones of the face are connected to each other, when one bone is out of balance or not growing correctly, it can have a domino effect on the other bones and structures of the face. For example, the roof of the mouth (palate) is also the floor of the nose; they are, in fact, the same bone. So, harmful, but common behaviors like mouth-breathing, not only lead to narrow and collapsed palates and crowded teeth but also directly affect the space, size, and shape of the nasal cavity. This leads to constricted and narrow nasal cavities which make breathing through your nose even more difficult.
This compromised airway effects everything from daytime cognitive performance to nighttime sleep quality because the body cannot properly oxygenate the organs. In a properly “tongue- supported upper jaw,” the upper teeth are always on the outside or overlapping the lower teeth.
Therefore, if a narrow upper jaw develops as previously described, it traps the lower jaw from growing (Again, think of the lower jaw as a car trying to move forward into a garage with narrow, constricted wall—it can’t move forward.) If the lower jaw, or mandible is trapped or blocked from achieving its natural forward growth, this constricts the wind pipe behind it. You can now understand how a healthy airway is the foundation of ideal orthodontic treatment results and why addressing all the CAUSES, not just addressing the teeth is important to your child’s smile AND general health.
In addition to understanding mouth-breathing as an underlying cause, another harmful oral habit that must be addressed while in orthodontic treatment, is an acquired incorrect swallowing pattern, termed a “REVERSE SWALLOW.”
An indication that a Reverse Swallow exists is when you observe the lips “purse” together and tense inward while the chin muscle or “ball of the chin” strains or clenches and becomes “dimpled” in appearance during a swallow of food or drink. You may even notice a slight “head bob” during the last part of a swallow.
When this swallowing pattern happens repeatedly, about 2000 times per day, the muscles of the lips and chin put so much “inward” force on the upper and the lower teeth, that the teeth get “pushed backwards” and become crowded. In addition to the teeth being affected, this repeated “backward” muscle force inhibits or “holds back” the proper “forward” growth of the jaws and therefore leads to a constricted and compromised airway space and size.
Three Signs of a Tongue Thrust:
- The tongue pokes out to greet utensils.
- Constant lip licking when eating.
- Tensing of the lips or face when swallowing.
Here are a few examples of factors influencing prolonged tongue-thrusting:
- Bottle Feeding Genetic Factors Digit-Sucking/Pacifier Sucking
- Sippy-Cup Use
- Enlarged Tonsils and/or
- Mouth Breathing
- Tongue Size (Macroglossia) but rare.
- Tongue-Tie (Ankyloglossia)