As an orthodontist, I see children every day who have preventable issues with their teeth, jaw alignment, and airways. I say preventable because parents can help with the development of their baby’s mouth and airways, even before birth. Once they’re born, how parents feed their babies can have a life-long impact. Much has been written about the nutritional and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, but not much about the benefit of oral facial development, and its life-long impact on better sleep.
The book, Sleep-Wrecked Kids by Sharon Moore, takes a deep dive into this topic, one of the reasons I recommend it to my patients. Breastfeeding naturally promotes healthy oral facial development. A baby has to work diligently at sucking to get the milk, which stimulates and shapes the development of face, jaws, and airways.
“From birth until the first adult teeth come in around age six, the sutures of the palate (the soft segments that join the upper jaw bones together) are at their softest, most flexible and movable. In fact, the upper jaw has connections to other bones of the head and face. And because muscle function impacts the growth and development of many bones joined by sutures, the best time to influence that growth and development is in the very beginning when the sutures are at their softest. The movement of the tongue, cheeks, and lips which are all used for sucking during breastfeeding, contribute to face, mouth, and jaw growth. Facial bone development is at its maximum growth rate from birth to the age of two, and there is much parents can do to help this process.”
- Sharon Moore, Sleep-Wrecked Kids
She goes on to say that it’s important to stimulate your baby’s palate and gums, and the easiest, most natural way to do that is through breastfeeding. Of course, there may be good reasons to choose bottle feeding, and this is not to make you feel uncomfortable with your choice. If you bottle feed, find a bottle that works your baby’s face, mouth, and throat muscles as much as possible. It should have an adjustable flow, or mimic the nature of the breast as much as possible. The formula should not flow too easily, as your baby will fill up without working the proper muscles.
Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, the feeding position is also very important. Placing your baby in an uprightor semi-upright position encourages the tongue to push up into the palate and helps keep the palate in a broad flat shape. If bottle feeding, it’s even more important to pay attention to position, as lying down can lead to middle ear infections.
The healthy, natural position of the tongue is to rest against the palate. Breastfeeding encourages this naturally. If you’re bottle feeding, you can use massage and exercises to your baby’s mouth and face to supplement. Here’s why the tongue position is important:
“Being able to hold the jaws closed helps the tongue rest against the upper jaw, also maintaining the upper jaw shape. This is important because the upper jaw forms both the roof of the mouth and the floor of the nose. A poorly shaped upper jaw – too high, too arched, or too narrow leads to dental problems and airway issues common in children with sleep-disordered breathing. A narrow upper jaw is associated with narrow nasal passages. These kids find it hard to breathe through their nose and keep their tongue up, and the process reinforces itself. By contrast, developing a healthy broad upper jaw helps open the nasal air spaces for nose breathing, mitigating the airway related sleep-disorders commonly related to upper jaw dimension. Developing good body strength and posture is also part of this essential process. Alignment of the head, neck, and body makes a big influence on tongue, lip, and jaw position. It's like a big body puzzle and all the pieces have to fit together and work together. Tongue up, lips together, back straight.”
- Sharon Moore, Sleep-Wrecked Kids
Healthy airways are critical to good sleep. And good sleep is critical to everything from peaceful family life to the actual growth, development, and well-being of the child. If your child is having trouble sleeping – at any age – I highly recommend you read Sleep-Wrecked Kids, and come see me if you suspect an airway issue could be the culprit. I have treatments to restore airways for a healthy night’s sleep.
Contact us today if you have any questions. We look forward to helping you and your family achieve better health here at Demko Orthodontics.