The Hows and Whys of Orthodontics

Part 3


Young children should start chewing solid food such as fruit, vegetables, fibre and grains as soon as their first teeth appear. The chewing will exercise the muscles of the jaws, lips, cheeks and tongue which helps the jaws and teeth to develop correctly. Unfortunately, much of our modern diet consists of highly refined food which does not require a lot of chewing and so the muscles do not get good exercise when eating.

Drinking whilst eating can also be a problem as the food turns into a liquid 'slurry' which is quirted to the back of the throat while the lips and tongue are engaged to complete the act of swallowing, reinforcing the infantile swallow. Both drinking while eating and refined foods should be discouraged, whilst eating raw natural foods should be encouraged.

We see that the delicate balanced function of the muscles of the lips, cheeks, tongue, head, neck, and shoulders have a major influence on the correct development of the teeth and jaws. Deviation in their function may have detrimental effects on the teeth and jaws.

Other factors, such as thumb sucking and nail biting may also cause a malocclusion to develop by causing the muscles to deviate from their normal function. In a few rare cases, a child may have over-large teeth (macrodontia) too big to fit even well-developed jaws and in these cases teeth may well need to be extracted.

Occasionally, teeth may be congenitally absent. The most common are wisdom teeth but fairly common - and far more significant - are the lateral incisors (the small teeth next to the front ones). Thorough records must be taken using x-rays, models of the teeth and photographs, and a careful study of the muscles of mastication must be made to allow the dentist to come to a correct diagnosis of malocclusion.

Another area that requires to be considered is the head, as the upper and lower jaws are connected to the rest of the skull. The shape and function of the cranial bones (skull bones) has a diverse effect on the shape and position of the jaws. Recent studies have shown that the head bones move in a rhythmical motion of 6 to 12 cycles per minute. This rhythm allows the fluid which surrounds the brain and spinal cord to be kept fresh, thus providing the brain and spinal cord with nutrition and protection. For this fluid to perform its function correctly, all the bones of the head (28 in total) must be correctly aligned and be able to move freely around the junctions (sutures) between them.

In a recent study, 80% of new-born babies were found to have some form of cranial misalignment, of which approximately 70% required some form of treatment. These misalignments are caused by birth trauma, where the baby does not present correctly at the birth canal, so the head does not get compressed correctly as the baby goes through the birth control, resulting in distortion

If the baby is born using forceps or suction, this will have a major effect on the head. As the baby grows up, any bad falls or subsequent bangs that they suffer could have an effect on the cranial bones. During orthopaedic treatment it may be necessary to treat these distortions using a very gentle therapy called CranioSacral Therapy.

Why Do We Need To Correct the Bad Bite?

The first and most obvious reason for most people is to give themselves or their child a beautiful natural smile and all the confidence that goes a long with it. A less understood (but equally important) reason for correcting the bite is to correct the detrimental effect that a malocclusion may have on the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders over a longer period of time.

The dysfunction of the muscles may cause problems such as:

  1. Headaches - both tension and migraine type
  2. Neck and shoulder pain
  3. Sinus pains
  4. Ringing and dullness in the ears.

If this is allowed to continue, it may lead to clicking and popping in the joints next to the ears (the Temporomandibular Joints). The myriad of pains and clicks is commonly known as TMJ Dysfunction or CMD (Craniomandibular Dysfunction). This condition is widespread and is a very common cause of head, neck and shoulder pain in the general population. Interestingly, an American study carried out in 1983 showed that 33% of adolescents presenting for more routine orthodontic treatment already had signs of TMJ dysfunction.

So, for the sake of your child's future health, as well as their beautiful smile, treatment should be considered and started while the child is still young, as it is easier to move the teeth and jaws of a growing child than those of an adult.

Where to find us
Based in Argyll, on the West Coast of Scotland, Stewart Wright currently practices two days per week in Oban.