Snoring, abnormal facial growth and nutrition…what are the links?

snoringThe health of our jaw, facial structure, and airway starts with what we eat. In this article, Abdel Wahab Dannawi will talk about how our diet can change our face structure and alter our breathing.


Did you ever wonder when impaction of wisdom teeth starts to happen? Ancient people didn’t have to go to an oral surgeon to get their teeth out.

It all starts around 200 to 300 years ago when the industrial revolutions starts and people start to have wisdom teeth impacted and crowded teeth.

Anthropologist and researchers studied the difference between jaws of urban and rural areas. They found that many of the common orthodontic problems experienced by people in industrialised nations are due to their soft modern diet causing the jaw to grow too short and small, relative to the size of their teeth, which in turn causes crowding.

Not only does our modern diet bring us crowded teeth and impacted molars, but also changes our skeletal posture and leads to not getting enough oxygen.

Let’s talk about facial growth

Studies suggest that a hard diet, which requires more chewing force and time, promotes vertical growth of the ramus and anterior translocation of the maxilla.

The greater posterior face height and greater height of the ramus follow with the earlier finding that the mandible shows more anterior growth rotation in an attritive environment.

These findings support the hypothesis that the growth of the craniofacial skeleton is regulated by masticatory stress. It is suggested that both the dimensional changes and the lack of dental attrition may contribute to the higher occlusal variation of modern individuals.

Beginning with the maxilla

We all studied the development of the maxilla; how it is the centre of the face and how it is crucial for breathing and eating. But what happens if this bone doesn’t develop properly?

It can lead to malocclusion and impaction wisdom teeth. It can cause underdevelopment of the entire eye socket and causes astigmatism and myopia. Plus it lessens the oxygen you take in.

In ordinary breathing, the nasal passage is outlined to slow down airflow within the sinuses to warm and humidify the air and to permit it to mix with nitric oxide, which increases oxygen intake within the lungs.

But when individuals breathe through their mouth their lungs get dry and infiltrated with air and no nitric oxide. This means their body is consistently starving for oxygen. And that leads in the long term to harm their heart muscles and brain tissue.

The mandible

The mandible helps with swallowing and breathing by providing a base for muscles of the tongue and throat.

It undergoes remodelling with the maxilla. The mandible needs at least 35mm of bone behind the second molar to make place for third molars. Otherwise the wisdom teeth become impacted or don’t erupt normally.

How can the mandible cause breathing problems?

Like the maxilla helps form the nasal passage, the mandible forms the lower airways (soft palate).

The tongue is a complex group of muscles that connects to the mandible, soft palate, and hyoid bone. These muscles offer support for the airway.

At rest, normally, the tongue should touch on the roof of the mouth. But pathologically, when the palate is narrow and the tongue sits on the floor of the mouth, the muscles don’t open the airway as they should.

In addition, when there’s no space for the tongue in the mandible (when the mandible don’t grow naturally) the tongue falls back into the throat instead of staying and touching the roof. That leads to starving the lungs of oxygen and causes sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep and snoring).

Lets give a small example of how our nutrition shapes our facial structure:

In case we take babies who are breastfeeding and not bottle-fed, the newborn that latches on to the mother’s breast is normally induced to utilise its tongue muscles to push the nipple to the roof of its mouth.

Since the roof in babies is soft like wax, this activity will flatten and broaden the palate and make space for upper teeth.

Studies show that when we eat a more refined, processed diet, our palates don’t develop like our ancestors.

Remember, the normal form of our face leads to normal muscle tone that leads to normal breathing.

If we alter these it may lead to incorrect breathing.

Breathing epidemic

One of the main obligations of your brain is to get enough oxygen to function properly. If you compromise the oxygen supply, it can lead to severe health issues.

According to NIH, approximately 70 million Americans suffer with chronic sleep disorders. The truth is that anyone who hasn’t had proper jaws or normal facial development is at risk.

So what is the aetiology of snoring?

The medical term for snoring is sleep apnea. Snoring is the sound of vibrating tissue in the airway due to narrowing or blockage as you breathe.

When the jaw is underdeveloped, which leads often to impacted third molars and crowding of teeth, there’s less space in your mouth to fit the tongue. So the tongue falls back when you lie down and blocks your airway. This interrupts the breathing and causes snoring.

snoring 2

In severe apnea, the consistent interruption to breathing can disrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain. It can damage parts of the brain that regulate brain pressure and heart rate. That then leads to serious issues like dementia and heart disease.

What does sleep apnea do to your brain?

Brain scans of individuals with sleep apnea uncover that when we don’t sleep at night, vital parts of the brain endure damage.

These incorporate parts of the brain that help control the autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious processes in our body. Particularly, sleep apnea has been shown to harm the regions that impact breathing, blood pressure and motor coordination, and memories, including memories of smells.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that controls short and long-term memory, as well as spatial memory.

Exercise can offer assistance to the hippocampus to regenerate neurons. That’s why physical activity is an important part of any treatment for a breathing-related disorder.

In conclusion, dental medicine is wider than focusing purely on treating teeth. The most overwhelming is the multidisciplinary approach to help the patient to catch any early abnormalities.

This is a condensed basic knowledge about the link of nutrition to facial growth and breathing.

I will speak in another article about how to keep the face and jaw healthy and some functional treatments for sleep apnea and exercises to correct the breathing.

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