Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nature's Perfect Smile

No braces needed here. Natural smiles (clockwise from upper left corner) 
from Tibet, Afghanistan, Gambia, and Polynesia.
images: wikimedia commons

My baby refused to drink from bottles at 8 weeks. I panicked because I had to go back to work part-time. But then I realized that she was protecting her future teeth, her health, and her pretty face.

I've always had a bunch of unanswered questions about teeth: Why do humans have such bad teeth but other species don't? What did humans do before toothbrushes and orthodontists? Why do virtually all of us need braces? What's with the rampant overbites and crowded teeth? How did Nature get our teeth so wrong? "It's our modern diet," is the generic explanation. But how? And mothers are told that pacifiers are bad for children's teeth. But why?

I have a little person in my home who has yet to grow her own chompers. How can I ensure that her teeth are healthy? 

I've searched for answers. And in short: our dental woes are avoidable. Take a look at these amazing teeth from the skulls of people who lived before modern diets, orthodontists, toothbrushes, and pacifiers. Notice that the teeth are cavity-free and the bites aren't just great, they're perfect

Dr. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

You may have noticed that every indigenous population in the world has a wider, broader face than the average Westerner's face. There's a reason for that. It's Nature's tooth design at work. Here's how:

Dr. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
All the bones in our body, including our skull and jaw bone, grow by a "use it or lose it" principle. Using the bones in the face properly ensures that the skull grows wide and the jaw bone comes forward. Proper use means eating the foods that Nature meant for us to eat. When the skull and jaw bone get enough exercise to stimulate growth, they develop to the right size and shape for the teeth to naturally descend. 

Unfortunately, modern infant feeding practices and a diet of textureless, processed, nutritionally devoid foods deprive our teeth of the vitamins and minerals we need. We tend to take our abundance of food for granted, but nutrients matter and the industrialization of farming and food has left us eating junk, even if it's healthy-looking. The years of orthodontist appointments that every teenager in America knows is evidence of our suboptimal nutrition.

Dental development is mostly complete by the age of 12, so our little ones still have a chance at a healthy smile. It's in the food we eat. Some people are even healing cavities and avoiding braces for themselves and their kids with diet alone. 

Let's look at Nature's instructions for your child's perfect teeth.

Breastfeed baby, and breastfeed for a while. Firstly, if you can't breastfeed, there's still plenty you can do.  But if you can: The action of the baby's tongue on the nipple puts pressure on the roof of the mouth, causing the palate to grow wider, making space for the baby's future teeth. Babies are born with small chins (one contributing awww factor) because their jaw bones are proportionately small compared to their heads. The suckling action of breastfeeding trains the muscles around the jaw bone, helping the jaw to catch up with the skull's development and preventing overbite.

By contrast, when a baby feeds from a bottle, his tongue and jaw don't move in the back and forth motion of breastfeeding and the pressure from a hard artificial nipple pushes the palate upwards into a V-shape. The jaw fails to broaden and teeth grow in crowded. A high arch also cramps the sinuses, leading to breathing problems and sinus infections later.

Dr. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.
Babies who breastfeed for at least one year benefit from improved oral development, but since a child's craniofacial growth is most rapid up to age 4, breastfeeding for 2-4 years is even better. For bottle-feeding babies, there are orthodontic bottle teats that simulate the breast-nipple and protect oral development. A mineralizing diet for the bottle-fed baby will also help nourish strong, straight teeth later.

Try to stop with pacifiers and thumb-sucking by 2 years. "You're not a pacifier." Really? Interestingly, Nature thinks you are, based on this observation of Amazon toddlers up to 5 years old who comfort nurse on any set of boobs available. Amazon tribal people also have perfect dental and facial development, so comfort nursing obviously isn't harming anyone's teeth. On the other hand, in our modern world, sucking thumbs and pacifiers has led to widespread malocclusions, especially after 2 years, by disturbing the tongue's palate-widening motion like bottles do.

If you've got a binky baby, look into orthodontic pacifiers that minimize the effect.

Give baby real food to munch on. A baby's palate is as malleable as softened wax and needs to be widened to make space for all of baby's teeth. Chewing, gumming, or munching on real food achieves this through the tongue's upward and lateral motion. Babies can start forming their palates from the time they begin drooling at the dinner table and grabbing at your plate – around 6 months. There's no need for the jars of mushy, bland baby food. Dive right in, babies enjoy exploring and eating what everyone else is eating. Known as baby-led weaning, the practice of giving babies a softer, finger-food version of adult food is what humans have done for thousands of years, before there were any dentists. Baby-led weaning also develops motor skills and eliminates the spoon struggle, and letting baby feed herself is fascinating and cute to watch.

Here's Frieda feeding herself at 7 1/2 months. You can read more about my experience with baby-led weaning:

On the opposite end of the spectrum, until very recently, modern babies were given bland, textureless baby food and puree. With this mush, babies didn't have the opportunity to start training the chew-swallow motion that widen the palate. In addition, until the 1970s baby foods were highly processed and deprived babies of nutrients, and still today the Standard American Diet (SAD) doesn't provide the vitamins and minerals for truly healthy teeth. Here are some examples of poor nutrition's effect on the middle third of the face. 

Dr. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

Dr. Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Eat real foods and animal fats, both for mama and baby. Cheese, butter, oily fish, organ meats, and raw milk along with your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A mineralizing diet (guide here) gives your bones and teeth the building blocks they need and heals poor dental health. But getting enough calcium isn't enough. Minerals need vitamins A and D to be absorbed, and throughout history, humans have gotten these from animal sources, so our digestion is made for this kind of nutrition. 
photo:audrey mei
Combine plant foods with fats (animal fats or olive oil) because vitamins A and D are fat-soluble, meaning that we can't absorb them without fats. 

The nutrition of pregnant and breastfeeding women shows up in the dental health of the children, so it's especially important for mothers to load up on grass-fed butter, eggs, and milk products. The Weston A. Price Foundation provides extensive dietary information for babies, nursing mothers, and pregnant women, and includes everything you need to know about vitamin-rich cod liver oil

I'm lucky to be living in an agricultural region where we get local organic vegetables and fruits. Hormone-free, non-GMO meat comes from the local butcher. So I'll be stocking my kitchen with good stuff for my baby's future teeth. Meanwhile, she won't drink from the bottle so I've accepted the cut in my income until she eats enough on her own to go to daycare. The savings in orthodontic bills will hopefully more than make up for it.

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