Dr. Mary Bourke discusses the importance of optimizing children’s orofacial growth, development, and function
Chewing is essential when it comes to stimulating neural pathways, chew reflexes, and developing the musculature to facilitate optimal facial tone and jaw growth. Processed mushy baby food, squeeze packs, pacifiers, bottles, and sippy cups all keep the suck reflex active when a baby should be developing their chewing pathways optimizing development on all levels. The natural growth forces generated from correct chewing make a big contribution to growing faces and maintaining ideal oral function for life.
The lack of fiber and over-processing of foods in today’s diet can lead to insufficient activation of the facial and peri-cranial muscles. As the saying goes, “stasis is the basis of disease” — chewing is essential to provide the necessary exercise that oxygenates and strengthens the muscles of the stomatognathic system. Just as humans require a mix of aerobic and strengthening exercises to maintain physical fitness, non-traumatic exercises are also crucial for the peri-cranial, facial, and neck muscles.
Chewing and jaw growth — it’s like assembling a tent!
Think of the face and jaw as a sturdy tent, supported by its poles and guy ropes. The guy ropes, in this case, are the muscles of the lips, face, and tongue. When these muscles have the right tension, the forces acting on our facial bones are well-balanced. This balance is crucial for proper bone growth, as the muscles pull on the bones to contribute to their development.
However, certain factors can disrupt this delicate balance in the face, such as pacifier use, thumb sucking, open-mouth breathing, and nasal obstruction. These disruptions can lead to incorrect growth forces and even result in issues like an open bite, as seen with thumb sucking.
It’s important to maintain the correct tension in these muscles, as they play a significant role in the development of the jaw, palate, and facial structures. By understanding and optimizing these “length tension relationships,” we can ensure healthy growth and function.
The benefits of chewing are far reaching, and more are being discovered all the time.
What we do know is:
- Chewing is involved in regulation and maintenance of bone growth.
- Chewing is the essential movement for optimal upper airway function to develop strength of the muscles involved in the complex process of swallowing.
- Chewing assists with Eustachian tube and sinus drainage.
- Chewing develops the strength of muscles to ensure strength and stability of the TM Joints.
- Chewing is involved in reducing stress and is known to be neuro-calmative.
- Chewing contributes to better cognition.
- Chewing allows for the breakdown and absorption of foods more efficiently.
Why start early?
In our busy world of such modern conveniences as pacifiers, baby capsules, and bottle-feeding, the lack of oral stimulation that babies are experiencing is becoming normalized. Without this crucial stimulation of the initial oral complex, children are sent along a trajectory of poor orofacial growth and function which can present in issues such as narrow palates, teeth crowding, and the huge cascade of health issues connected to mouth breathing.
The movement essentials for optimal cranio-facial growth and function are sucking, swallowing, nasal breathing, and chewing. The earlier we can detect a developmental problem, the more likely we are able to shift the trajectory and get development back on track. Malocclusions can be predicted from as young as 6 months, and do not self-correct if left untreated.
Malocclusions are often the root cause for many issues including:
- speech and feeding
- dribbling and drooling
- ear infections
- mouth breathing
- sleep disturbance
- postural instability and weakness
When we have a patient in our clinic who is a baby or toddler, it is a fantastic opportunity to identify any dysfunctions, and correct and optimize the growth potential in front of us. Early detection and correction are essential to optimize growth potential and create a “good quality face.”
Without further ado — Let’s chew!
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Mary Bourke, BSc, BAppSc, Chiropractor, has an expansive vision, as both a health professional with over 30 years of experience and as Myo Munchee CEO. She is dedicated to the young people of today and future generations, as well as to promoting the countless benefits of chewing, both within Australia and worldwide, with a deep passion and commitment. Dr. Bourke lives in Newcastle, NSW, Australia with her husband, three daughters, and dachshund, Alfie. She still chews a Munchee every day and spreads her time between Myo Munchee and a successful chiropractic practice.