The Importance of Proper Pediatric Jaw Development
It’s not jaw-dropping news that proper development is essential for the health of your child. If children’s minds and bodies are developing correctly, they are less likely to experience issues down the line. At Muscles in Harmony, we specialize in myofunctional Therapy and the importance of jaw growth and development by treating tongue-tie and other oral disorders. What often surprises our readers and patients is the importance of oral health and how closely it correlates with physical health. This blog post will explore that correlation and discuss the importance of proper pediatric jaw development.
Improper Jaw Development Can Lead to Health Problems
The jaw is just a bone on our face, right? It couldn’t be as essential in our overall health as our eyes, ears, nose, and organs do.
While this seems to be accurate, it is a common misconception. Myofunctional Therapy is the practice of retraining the tongue, mouth, lips, and jaw with proper posture in our mouth. If the jaw does not develop properly, it can cause the natural position of our tongue to shift, which can subsequently block our airways and impact our breathing. The human tongue should always sit on the palate unless speaking or eating. The tongue forms the maxillary arch to allow teeth to erupt into their correct position within the arch. When the tongue is tethered or tied to the floor of the mouth, this restricts the tongue from doing its job (check out our blog to learn more about tongue ties and their effects on a child’s development). A jaw not developing efficiently can lead to various health issues, starting with breastfeeding, airway breathing, chewing, and swallowing. The abnormal development of the maxillary and mandibular arches will be affected, preventing typical eruption patterns and alignment within the arches, including temporomandibular disorder, also known as TMD. Fortunately, myofunctional therapy can help treat TMD and other health conditions. Several different factors in young children can impact pediatric jaw development.
The Impact of Breastfeeding, Nutrition, and Thumb sucking
Three of the most significant factors that can impact jaw development in children are breastfeeding nutrition, and thumb sucking. Let’s break each one down a bit further.
- Breastfeeding and Jaw Development
- As a whole, the healthcare industry tends to focus on the health benefits of breastfeeding and the bonding experience promoting skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, but what is seldom mentioned is that breastfeeding muscle forces positively impact the baby’s jaw. Breastfeeding is recognized as a benefit to the infants” jaw growth and development. Since the baby’s jaw will be growing at a fast pace during infancy, this can have an impact on the functional development of the jaw.
- Similarly, while sippy cups and pacifiers can provide comfort for a child, what it is doing is causing the maxillary arch (upper arch) to be formed by the shape of the cup or pacifier as muscle trumps bone; this force can negatively affect the child’s proper development of their airway and growth and development of the jaw. Think back to just 50 years ago; sippy cups and pacifiers were unknowingly negatively affecting oral health. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. There are many more choices; always read the benefits and pick cautiously.
- Nutrition and Jaw Development
- Some parents are hesitant to transition their baby into eating solid foods. To transition from breastfeeding, they will often begin to feed their child mushy foods for a while before actually giving them solid foods. While the concern is well-meant, it is misplaced. At around six months, it is recommended that babies are to start eating solid foods in a high chair which helps them develop strong jaws since they are more actively engaging in the functions of the jaw and the mechanics of chewing.
- Weaker jaw development can result in blocked airways and a variety of health problems later down the road. Thinking in the past, all these oral disorders where unknown. WHY? Our parents and grandparent didn’t have the many options of today. What did they eat? Chicken off the bone, tomatoes from a garden, corn on the cob, not removed off the cob. Steak or chewy meats. This is what assists in growing the jaws and opening the airway.
- Today food pouches are available for kids to suck out nourishment. This is not good for any child. Chicken nuggets, burgers, applesauce, all these foods are not assisting growing the jaws. Think healthy foods without processing with chemicals and preservatives. Growing a garden with healthy vegetables would be a terrific choice rather than fast foods.
- Thumb Sucking and Jaw Development
- As we mentioned before, pacifiers and sippy cups can bring a child temporary comfort, but it comes with the price of long lasting health conditions. While sucking habits are a normal part of development for infants, once a child is a toddler (around three years of age) they should refrain from thumb sucking and pacifiers. Thumb sucking usually is eliminated by a myofunctional therapist leading the child to decide on their own that thumb sucking is not a good choice. The thumb can actually form the palate into the shape of the thumb, and a high narrow palate creates many problems. Erupting teeth will not fit in a narrow arch there is not enough room.
- As teeth start to erupt, it is imperative that the jaw has developed properly to ensure that their teeth will align properly. Tongue-ties can blocked airways, but also a tongue tie observed as an Eiffel tower frenum can restrict the jaw from growing forward, remembering muscle trumps bone which can cause serious health problems.
Surgery is not the Whole Solution
Sometimes surgery is necessary and can be recommended to correct jaw issues. Like many other types of surgery, however, surgeries that treat myofunctional issues can sometimes only be a temporary fix. There are many types of jaw surgeries depending on the concern. Bad habits that were established prior to the surgery will likely still be present, which can cause the issue to reemerge and undo the work that was done in surgery, making it a waste of time, money, and pain.
One of the many benefits of Myofunctional Therapy is neuromuscular re-education, retraining the muscles of the face and jaw to work in harmony. If the tongue is not in the correct posture once surgery is over the powerful force of the tongue can destroy the correction that was made. The tongue has approximately 800 pounds of pressure during each swallow that has a lot of pressure on the teeth and the mouth. That is why, even with surgery, it is important to also undergo Myofunctional Therapy to eradicate the bad habits first that led to myofunctional issues in the first place.
Myofunctional Therapy before and after surgery can assist the muscles to work in harmony. If muscles are not working properly the body will compensate for It’s. It’s amazing how much the body compensates for a simple tongue tie.
Orthodontics can create a wide arch and move the jaws forward to allow for all the teeth to naturally develop and erupt into the mouth. In the past, orthodontics recommended teeth to be extracted, that is not the thinking anymore. Wide and forward is what is now being provided from any airway orthodontist. The dental arches need to be wide to accommodate a wide airway, which is what everyone would like to have. People want to eliminate their CPAP machines, snoring, sleep apnea, people want to and need to sleep well. Sometimes these can be eliminated or minimized at a young age, by eating healthy natural foods, biting into an apple unpeeled – not cutting it up; bite into foods like corn or the cob or having the teething baby gnaw on a large washed carrot (not peeled – the nutrition is in the peel. Give the child a steak bone to chew on. All these create strong toned muscles that assist in the grow and development of the jaws.
In the past, our ancestors did not have pouches, or chicken nuggets, or French fries, or soft food that is available today. They were gathers and hunters that daily had to catch their own food. As grateful as we are, the industrial revolution did not do us favors by developing detrimental addiction to unhealthy food options.
Don’t Wait for Problems to Develop
Proper jaw development in children is so important to their continued and overall health. It is crucial to treat these issues early on while your child is still young and while their muscles and bones are still develop. Don’t wait until their jaw is fully developed to deal with health issues. It is recommended to see your dentist or dental hygienist after birth to have the jaw, tongue and lips evaluated for any abnormal development. Dental hygienists are trained in nutrition, those that are trained in myofunctional therapy can assist new parents with assessment of tethered oral tissues and recommendations for the appropriate cup to use and nutritional options.
Myofunctional Therapy has been an underutilized profession for the last 65 years. Orthodontists, dentists, and ear, nose and throat professionals are typical referral sources. But, if they have not been trained to recognize a disorder, they do not refer; because they don’t know what don’t know.
This type of therapy is beneficial for all age groups. Sleep apnea, snoring, nail biting, hair twirling, abnormal chewing, swallowing, and much more. It’s never too late to be assessed for a concern.
At Muscles in Harmony, we are happy to assist all age groups. Please call to schedule an evaluation at (480) 442-1590 to learn more about Myofunctional Therapy. We have both in-person and virtual appointments available. You can also check our FAQ or send us a message if you have questions and we would be happy to help answer your questions.