Breastfeeding and jaw development
Sparkle Dental | 9/09/2016
Breastfeeding is the most important modifiable influence on facial growth in a child's first year of life.
This blog post examines the relationship between breastfeeding, facial and airway development, and crooked teeth.
How does breastfeeding help with jaw and facial development?
Breastfeeding requires the baby to co-ordinate their orofacial muscles to form a vacuum to allow milk to be released from the breast.
The back of the tongue must first be drawn firmly against the palate, which allows the tongue mould the upper jaw, and work as nature’s palatal expander (widening the upper jaw so it houses the tongue perfectly).
After milk has been released, the tip of the tongue pushes the breast against the front of the palate. This stimulates the forward development of the front part of the upper jaw and midface.
As the lower jaw moves back and forth, it stimulates forward growth of the lower jaw too.
As the jaws and face grow forward, so does the airway.
Breastfeeding is a fantastic muscle workout.
Research has shown that babies who are breastfed have greater orofacial muscle activity than those who are bottle-fed. Overall breastfeeding is an excellent orofacial muscle work out, and this helps to develop good bony jaw structures.
In fact, there is evidence suggesting that the muscle strength that is developed persists, and even at the age of two to three years when breastfeeding has stopped, breastfed babies have stronger chewing muscles than their bottle fed counterparts.
Breastfeeding prevents against orthodontic problems
Orthodontic problems like crooked teeth are most usually a sign of underdevelopment of the jaws and face.
An Australian study of more than 1100 children published last year in Paediatrics found that children who were exclusively breastfed had better teeth and jaw alignment by the age of 5 years. Their risk of these problems was 72% lower than those who were not.
Read Breastfed children less likely to develop overbites, crossbites.
In addition, orthodontic problems in facial growth like narrow palates and retruded lower jaws are known risk factors for obstructed breathing. Crooked teeth should no longer be viewed as a dental problem, but an indicator of poor facial and airway development.
There is now a trend to look at how diseases have evolved over time so that preventive strategies can be implemented.
By examining old skulls, it is noted that a few hundred years ago, crooked teeth were relatively rare. Jaws were well developed and impacted wisdom teeth were seldom a problem.
This increased prevalence of crooked teeth has happened too quickly for it to be related to genetic change.
Experts relate this increase in crooked teeth to the Industrial Revolution when feeding practices changed. Women started working outside the home. Tooth fossil studies show they had exclusively breastfed for up to 6 months, and continued to breastfeed for up to 3 years. With the Industrial Revolution there was the introduction of infant formula, bottle feeding and overly processed baby purees that required no chewing.
At present, the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that less than 20% of Australian women are exclusively breastfeeding by the age of 6 months. Breastfeeding beyond the first year of life is rare.
What does this mean?
Many people recognise the compositional benefits of breastmilk, but equally important are the mechanical aspects of breastfeeding on muscle and jaw development.
These jaw structures need to grow optimally, as they house and form the boundaries of the airway and are so important for breathing and good health. As the jaws grow, they allow room for teeth to erupt, preventing crooked teeth from developing.
Whilst not every mother is able to stay at home and breastfeed, it is important that the mechanical benefits of breastfeeding are highlighted so families can make the most fully informed decisions.
We also suggest that in the presence of breastfeeding problems that tongue-ties are ruled out. These are a common source of feeding problems like poor latch, colic, reflux (aerophagia), nipple damage and pain yet these are often undiagnosed. It is our experience that when a child comes for dental evaluation at our practice, we are the first to identify these tongue ties to the parents, despite a history of these problems.
Read more about breastfeeding problems associated with tongue-ties and lip-ties on our Perth Tongue Tie Clinic website here.
Watch a video on the problem of tongue ties and it's impact on breastfeeding here.
Prevention is better than cure
Sparkle Dental has a preventive approach to orthodontic problems, and our focus is on encouraging good facial development in the earliest years of life when the face and jaw structures are growing most rapidly.
By encouraging good orofacial muscle function, more normal form or development will occur. We encourage parents to bring their children in for early assessment of their jaw and dental development, as subtle problems can be identified at a very early age. This allows more natural approaches (including prevention, myofunctional therapy and use of the Myobrace system) compared to conventional orthodontic techniques.
Related blog categories: breastfeeding, myofunctional, therapy
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