Is Our Modern Diet Creating Health and Dental Issues?

Remember the old sci-fi premise was that we are evolving into intellectual giants

with huge skulls and brains, but tiny faces and bodies?

Is that what is happening? Have our bigger brains been achieved at the cost of

smaller jaws? Is that why most of us have either impacted or missing wisdom teeth

along with crooked, crowded teeth and bad bites?

Well, it doesn’t appear that evolutionary history bears this theory out.

Our jaws shrank to modern human size about two million years ago, when we

differentiated from the other primates.

We didn’t begin suffering from modern tooth decay until the Agricultural

Revolution, 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.

Crowding, malocclusions and impacted wisdom teeth started two hundred to

three hundred years ago, during the Industrial Revolution.

Basically, we had our new, big brains long before wisdom tooth and bite

problems occurred. There is no evolutionary advantage to our dental issues.

This is both good and bad. Good, because we can still be both physical and

intellectual superstars. One does not come at the cost of the other. Bad, because the

fact that all these changes happened in our most recent evolutionary past is very


And it appears that it’s all because of our modern diet.

Anthropological evidence shows that it’s taken only a few generations of eating

soft, processed and mass produced food to make our wide array of dental problems

not the exception but the norm.

And these problems include not only tooth decay, impacted wisdom teeth, and

crooked, crowded teeth. That might be a small price to pay for all our advances.

Unfortunately, there are bigger consequences. These also include our ability to

breathe, metabolize oxygen, brain development, posture, face shape, and even

longevity. We are currently experiencing an epidemic of modern health problems

like sleep apnea, ADD/ADHD, asthma, type II diabetes, etc.

We have learned that the growth of our faces, mouths, jaws and airways are

determined not just by genetics, but primarily by the very muscles that allow

us to chew, swallow and breathe. That old saying “if you don’t use it you lose it”

holds true for our craniofacial development as well.

Traditional orthodontics, particulary in North America, has focused mostly on

tooth straightening for pleasing esthetics. This has meant waiting for most of the

permanent teeth to erupt, around age twelve, and then dealing with the narrow,

malformed arches with extractions and braces. This might create beautiful, straight

teeth, but keeps the jaws and airways small, while maintaining the poor muscle

tone and posture of our chewing, swallowing and breathing muscles.

Most importantly, because most of our craniofacial growth is finished by age

twelve, waiting until this age wastes the precious time that could have been used to

encourage proper muscle function and tone, leading to optimum jaw and airway

growth, as well as tooth alignment.

There is a growing awareness that it’s time to move into a new era of airway

centered orthodontics, where correcting breathing and tongue and facial muscle

functions not only allow our faces, jaws and teeth to grow as they should, but could

also avoid exacerbating some of our modern health problems. As well, it could

minimize the need for heavy duty braces or extractions.

So, what could we do to turn this “de-evolutionary” trend around?

Let’s learn from past generations. Instead of reaching for that

soft, processed convenience food, let’s choose heartier, harder “real” food that

actually requires some chewing and gives our muscles a job to do. Our faces and

mouths, just like our abs and triceps, need a good workout. Let’s give our babies

real food to be weaned on, not pre-packaged, squeezable pulp that they just

swallow. Let’s watch our children for telltale signs of poor muscle function or

posture like mouth breathing, thumb sucking or snoring, and have them see an

airway orthodontist by age four or five, when there is still lots of time to redirect

growth. Better growth for teeth means better airway growth. Bigger airways mean

more oxygen for the brain, and better performance at sports, studying, and life in

general. Let’s recognize that it’s never too late, and that addressing snoring,

mouth breathing, or crooked teeth and bad bites as adults can still make a huge

difference to our esthetics and our health.

Let’s be those smart and healthy super specimens that we were meant to be.

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