We've lost the art of chewing: why it's so important to oral health and development

Humans are de-evolving. Over the past 250 years, our skulls have changed in concerning and often troubling ways. Our skulls, jaws, and airways are becoming markedly smaller and more constricted as the decades go on and it is happening at a pretty alarming rate. Why? One reason is because we have lost our need and ability to chew daily. We have lost the art of chewing.

How our modern diets impact facial development & oral health.

As a board-certified pediatric dentist, I know that initially, breastfeeding and proper tongue position is what creates ideal jaw and facial development. But this is not always available to all dyads. Once foods are introduced, mastication, or chewing, is key for proper jaw and airway development. Sadly, many kids no longer chew due to hyper-palpable and highly processed foods that require little to no chewing. Think: yogurts in tubes, soft pastas, and fruit snacks—versus nuts and seeds, chewy meats and jerky, and crunchy raw or blanched fruits and veggies.


What's more, in the late 1800s, a Canadian dentist named Weston Price became interested in the relationship between nutrition, dental health, and systemic wellness. In the 1930s, he started studying his theories about diet and dental health by assessing groups of humans around the globe who were maintaining the traditional diets of their geographic location. His research covered areas in Switzerland, Australia, and Polynesia and compiled his findings in a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

Arguably the most fascinating discovery he made was that the facial development of these more traditional humans was far more balanced and ideal than those who had adopted a “Westernized” diet made up of processed and refined flours and sugars. They also had close to no cavities or gum disease, further showing how modern diets can impact oral and developmental health.

But why is chewing so important?

While multiple factors can influence and affect the way a child’s face and skull develops, such as genetics, nutrition, tongue position and breathing, chewing is an incredibly critical one. The amount of time spent chewing (and what we are chewing), significantly impacts the growth, shape, and position of the jaws. In my work, I've learned that people who tend to eat more processed and refined foods have smaller and often underdeveloped jaws than those who eat traditional diets with foods that require more chewing.

As a pediatric dentist, I know if we catch these issues soon in infancy and early childhood, we have a better chance of getting children back on track with proper facial growth, dental development, and breathing. And one strategy to use when trying to course-correct issues is encouraging families to engage their children in chewing more.

Babies and their growing jaws need stimulus at early ages, as their skeletal systems are very malleable and reactive. Chewing helps to strengthen the jaw muscles and initiate ideal bone development by assisting in laying down the bone matrix, thus allowing the jaw to develop to its fullest potential. 

Other factors need to be considered, too, such as mouth breathing and improper tongue position, but working with an airway-focused or functional dentist from early on in your child’s life can help you get to the root causes of issues and will offer guidance to get them back on track

The takeaway

Humans need to chew, especially growing and developing children. It’s a fundamental part of growth and development, and is critical for ideal facial, cranial, and airway health. 


By Staci Whitman, DMD / Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist

Staci Whitman, DMD attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and initially worked as a general dentist, eventually going back to school, earning a certificate in pediatric dentistry from Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). She has always been passionate about children's sleep and airway health, focusing her research in residency on how to improve airway assessments and diagnostic tools in the pediatric population. She is the founder of NoPo Kids Dentistry in North Portland, Oregon where she takes a whole-body, holistic, and functional approach with her patients.

She became a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2012 and is a Board-Certified Pediatric Dentist and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. She is also involved in many dental organizations including the Holistic Dental Association, the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, the American Association of Ozonotherapy, and has her Certification in Laser Proficiency. She has taken numerous courses and training programs in children’s sleep and airway medicine, studying oral myofunctional therapy, craniosacral therapy, and is a Breathe Institute Ambassador.

Whitman is an Internationally Certified Health and Wellness Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is currently attending the Institute of Functional Medicine and the American College of Integrative Dentistry and Medicine with expected certification dates in
2022. She will also begin her Masters in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine next year.

(Source: mindbodygreen.com; October 22, 2021; https://tinyurl.com/w4d4aehw)
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