When most of us think of standing up straight, we probably arch our back a bit to straighten our spine. We might even shift the weight on our feet. But did you realise that your bite can affect your posture? This page explains how your posture affects your health.
Posture and your bite and closely related. One affects the other involving muscles in the neck, back, pelvis and legs. Our bodies have a high center of gravity on a very small base. This is further complicated by the fact that we carry a veritable bowling ball - our head - on top of our shoulders.
When we speak of good posture, we mean that the head and spine are balanced in relation to gravity. Bones provide the framework for the body. Joints are formed where two bones come together. Muscles attach to our bones and supply power for movement. Nearly every muscle of the body works in a co-ordinated effort to keep us upright and moving. Poor posture can place unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. It can also cause the muscles to suffer. When your muscles suffer, so do you. We might liken our posture to a delicately balanced mobile. Repositioning any part of the mobile will affect all the other parts. Maintaining the balance of the whole structure means that all the parts will have to shift.
The Postural Chain
When any part of your body is out of alignment with the other parts, there is a similar chain reaction. We can picture one end of the body as a postural chain, with feet at one end. What do you suppose is that the other end? The head? You're close - but more specifically, it's the teeth.
When your upper and lower teeth are closed together, each tooth actually forms a skeletal relationship with its opposing tooth. This bite determines the position of your jaw, and in turn, the position of your head on your spine. To demonstrate this, tilt your head backwards and close your teeth lightly together. Notice that your back teeth hit first. Now tilt your head forward - toward your chest - and again lightly touch your teeth together. Now the front teeth hit first. These exaggerated movements demonstrate how the bite and head position affect one another.
It is just like the song 'the jaw bone is connected to the head bone, the head bone is connected to the neck bone etc'. The teeth are part of the skeletal system. When your teeth are improperly aligned, there is often a compensating effect - or chain reaction - throughout the postural chain. The body will adjust itself. This can involve muscles in the neck, back, and even those of the pelvis, legs, and feet.
Poor posture is not often thought of as a health problem. Over time, however, the consequences of postural neglect can be as damaging as an injury. Specific symptoms of a poorly postured bite include:
- Numbing or tingling sensation in one hand
- Pain in the jaw, head, neck, shoulders, or back
- Difficulty clearing the ears
Other related signs of postural neglect include:
- One shoulder higher than the other
- Muscles at the breast bone feel tender to the touch
- Trouser legs must be hemmed to different lengths
- Heels wear unevenly
Most postural problems can be improved at any age, yet the longer the problem exists, the more difficult it is to correct.
Bite and Head Posture
Many people carry their head too far forward. Ideally, when standing, a vertical line coming straight up from the floor would pass through the centre of the ear, shoulder, head, and arch of the foot. If the head is carried in front of this line, it places tremendous strain on the muscles of the shoulders, back, neck, and head. The average human head weighs 15lbs and with each inch forward the strain of supporting the head triples! Further, the shoulders roll forward and the jaw is pulled back. This changes the bite.
The bite can also influence the position of the head. If your knee joint was displaced, you would probably compensate by limping slightly. When your teeth are improperly aligned, the muscles in the jaw compensate by torquing your jaw slightly to bring the teeth together. This causes the muscles to work harder. Over time, certain muscles may become strained. Muscles which are under constant strain become shortened. They may eventually pull the head to one side or the other. Yet rather than walking around with a crooked head, we usually adjust our body to keep our eyes and ears level with the ground. This further aggravates the bite condition and may cause problems in other areas of the body - sometimes quite distant from the teeth!
We see, then, that your bite and your head posture are very much related - one affects the other.
Correcting Dental Posture
Postural problems are often treated with some form of physical therapy. Treatment may include stretching muscles which have become shortened over a period of time, or teaching you to move your body in ways to minimise the stress placed on various muscles and joints. Correcting long-term postural habits, however, is not so simple as learning to 'stand up straight'. Postural neglect can cause physical changes of the bones, joints, and teeth.
When your bite is involved with a postural problem, the dentist must correct it so that the muscle, bones, and teeth can function without strain and tension. Because the postural position of the head, neck and shoulders is so closely related to the bite, both dental therapy and physical therapy may be needed to correct the bite. Doing so will then frequently relieve seemingly unrelated symptoms such as pain in the head, neck, and back.
As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. So too, our body will adapt to its use over time. Poor postural habits become more difficult to correct the longer they exist, and they also become more injurious to your body. If you have any of the symptoms described, discuss them with your dentist, who will determine whether or not they can be relieved by dental treatment.