A lot of folks I know are asking about tooth and jaw issues and their children.
I wanted to share some information about one holistic dentist. A version of this essay originally appeared in 2011 at the Washington Times Communities.
For anyone who has ever had orthodontia, listening to a lecture by Dr. Felix Liao might feel, well, like sitting the dentist’s chair: imagine squirming, but from information, not discomfort.
It turns out that so many attempts to straighten our teeth have probably done a number on our health.
At a recent weekend lecture, Dr. Liao, owner of Whole Health Dental Center in Falls Church, Virginia, explained how Cranial-Dental Disorder can wreak havoc far from the mouth. The attendees, many of them parents who are members of the Northern Virginia Whole Food Nutrition Meetup Group, had their heads spinning as they saw examples of form following function. Before and after photos of children and adults who had their bite corrected were startling: one boy looked as if he’d grown half a head in just a week. Facial symmetry and general vibrance improved, too.
The crux of the message was that nothing in the body happens in isolation. When we attempt to straighten teeth for cosmetic purposes, we risk causing a whole host of other problems if we don’t look at posture, alignment, and position of the bite.
If children have persistent headaches, ear problems, fatigue even after resting, chances are there is something amiss in their bite. Posture is related to the way our mouth lines up with our spine and the way our jaws line up. Cranio-Dental Disorder, Dr. Liao explained, can manifest not only in colicky babies and preschoolers with persistent ear infections; it can also contribute to struggles with academics and sports throughout life.
So why do some children come into the world with poor mouth and dental structures? A variety of causes can contribute, with nutrition one of the most powerful. Dr. Liao cited the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the world in the 1920s and found compromised dental and overall health among people whose parents had abandoned their traditional, nutrient-dense diets for processed foods.
Photographs reveal startling differences between groups who had incorporated convenience foods and those – even in nearby villages – who held onto their ancestral diets, which were often rich in fats and almost never vegetarian. Picture wide jaws with straight teeth among the native peoples Price studied in contrast to narrow, V-shaped bites and crooked teeth in populations that ate processed food.
Other causes can include pollution from the 200 chemicals found in baby cord blood, as identified by the Environmental Working Group, and birth trauma that is not addressed early on by a chiropractor, osteopath or craniosacral therapist. Children who don’t want to give up a pacifier or stop sucking their thumb are likely trying to relieve a cranial strain, Dr. Liao said. “They are treating themselves the best way they know how,” he offered, but these habits will not address the core problem and can, in fact, create others.
Dr. Liao explained that our bite is not static, and it’s not simply mechanical. It’s part of our entire body structure. “You can’t drive straight if the steering system in your body” is not properly aligned, he explained. His “whole health” model of thinking rejects compartmentalizing the body, which he says works as a unit. By contrast, he said, many dentists fail to see he ripple effect of the jaw to other health issues, as though treating back pain, neck pain, or headaches does not fall under their job description.
Dr. Liao posited that a dental appliance should be “the first line of treatment” for snoring as it can help get the tongue out of the throat by correcting a narrow or receded jaw. It’s also possibly to expand the base of the nose by widening the palate, Dr. Liao said.
Not only can larger nostrils help with snoring, but addressing airway problems can alleviate oxygen deficiency that often results in headaches and depression in women and erectile dysfunction in men. In some cases, large tonsils restrict airways. Dr. Liao recommends working with a nutritionist, like event host Alana Sugar, to address food allergies that might affect tonsil size.
Breastfeeding helps to naturally develop a wide palate, and good nutrition from childhood can also keep a healthy individual developing a healthy bite. If children do develop problems, getting treatment early – often with expanders – can change a child’s medical fate. Dr. Liao quoted Dr. Jay Gerber who said that any treatment after age 12 is a compromise.
So what is a parent to do? Prenatally, both parents should get good nutrition from whole foods with plenty of healthy fats. Consider doing a cleanse before even trying to get pregnant. Breastfeed and follow a green lifestyle so that your children have the best chance of developing a healthy jaw and healthy body.
Observe your child’s face for balance vs. asymmetry or for other problems like pronated feet, and have him or her evaluated by age eight if you have any concerns. Dr. Liao uses a three-dimensional CBCT scan to see look not just at the bite and jaw structure but also to see if the head is mounted squarely over the body. From there, he has the information he needs to determine the right kind of appliance or complementary therapies.
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