It may surprise you to learn that something occurring in a child’s infancy can affect his or her need for orthodontic treatment in adolescence or even adulthood. Breastfeeding a child has an important influence on the child’s overall growth and development. It also has specific impact on the growth and development of the child’s upper and lower jaws. This is where orthodontics comes in.
We will explain here.
Dentists call most orthodontic problems malocclusions. Occlusion is the way the upper and lower jaws relate to one another, and the prefix mal- means “bad”. A malocclusion is a bad jaw relationship.
Malocclusions come in a variety of forms, including discrepancies between the size of the upper and lower jaws. When the upper jaw is much too small, the person develops an underbite. This can lead to a bulldog-like appearance with a concave profile.
When the lower jaw is undersized, this person will have a large overbite and a very convex profile. It may look like they do not have a chin.
In a healthy occlusion, the upper teeth should fit over the lower teeth like a lid on a box. This necessitates an upper and a lower jaw that have both grown and developed properly. When they have not, early orthodontic intervention is necessary to promote that healthy jaw growth.
When the jaws do not grow to proper length and width, there is often not enough room for the teeth, and the result is visible overcrowding with lots of overlapping and rotation of teeth.
During infancy, the child’s bones are very moldable. They respond to various forces by changing shape and growing in specific places. The suction forces a baby produces to draw milk from the mother’s breast help expand (widen) the upper jaw. This helps develop the airway in a lateral direction.
Breastfeeding also trains a baby to breathe through the nose. Nasal breathing is also essential to healthy jaw and airway development. The alternative, mouth breathing, is actually harmful to the growth and development of both upper and lower jaws and the airway.
Breastfeeding helps the child train his or her tongue to the proper rest position. Tongue position and swallowing, learned through nursing, contribute to the proper forces guiding the growth and development of the jaws.
We know that not everyone is able to breastfeed her infant. Because of the many benefits of nursing, we highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant to address the struggles you are having.
Some people have difficulty because the infant has an inappropriate lingual frenum attachment (a “tongue tie”). We can easily and quickly correct this problem through a simple dental procedure. Our patients have seen immediate improvement in breastfeeding following correction of a tongue tie.
There is no substitute for breastfeeding in its benefits in jaw growth and development, so we strongly recommend it whenever possible.
Most doctors studying the benefits of breastfeeding find that a minimum of six months is necessary for proper development. It is during this initial phase of life that the infant undergoes a period of rapid jaw growth. Breastfeeding during the first six months of life provides your child with significant long-term benefits.
So what if you missed the boat on breastfeeding for the first six months, and your child does have orthodontic problems? As long as your child is still a child with some remaining growth potential, we can correct the malocclusion with orthodontic intervention.
While it is always better for the jaws to grow and develop naturally, we do have the option to promote additional growth as long as your child is not finished growing. That age, when growing is complete, differs for every child. In general, it is earlier for female children than males.
In order to harness as much growth potential as possible and use orthodontic appliances to guide the growth, we need to intercept the malocclusions as early as possible. Ask your family dentist or your child’s pediatric dentist when to have an orthodontic consultation.
A good rule of thumb is that every child should see an orthodontist or have a thorough orthodontic evaluation by his or her dentist by age seven years.
When malocclusions remain untreated, there are many long-term consequences. A misaligned upper and lower jaw relationship leads to difficulty chewing, which can cause dietary restrictions and nutritional deficiencies.
Those with severe malocclusions often suffer from impaired airway function, meaning they cannot breathe properly. Airway issues cause increased daytime tiredness, poor school performance, behavioral problems, and attention deficit disorders. A restricted airway in children also makes the child more susceptible to illness. You may notice your child snoring frequently and getting sick more often than his or her classmates.
In an adult, a restricted airway often causes obstructive sleep apnea. This dangerous condition increases the risk for many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and even death.
Adults with poor jaw growth and development also have a greatly increased risk for TMJ disorder or dysfunction. TMD can cause chronic pain and a limitation in jaw function. TMD has a noticeably negative impact on one’s quality of life.
Diagnosis of TMJ disorder is difficult, and treatment is unpredictable in its long-term success.
Patients with severe orthodontic malocclusions also tend to suffer from low self-esteem due to unattractive facial structure. A noticeable underbite or overbite often makes a child feel “ugly” and has a negative impact on his or her self-esteem. The psychological impact is difficult to measure.
Those with severe malocclusions may be candidates for correction via jaw repositioning surgery. These surgeries, combined with orthodontic treatment, are the only way to “fix” severe underbites or overbites when the patient has no remaining growth potential. The surgeries successfully open the patient’s airway and create a healthy jaw relationship. They tend to improve the patient’s self-esteem and perception of his or her appearance as well.
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our expert dentists. We can answer all of your questions about your infant’s jaw development and help you understand your role in supporting his or her healthy growth.