How Our Food Shapes Our Faces, Health, and Sleep

Dr. Kevin Schwandt

Did you know that our diet affects our skull shape, oral health, and even our sleep and breathing patterns? From our ancestors’ strong jaws to the diverse dental conditions we see today, the evolution of our faces and skulls reflects the influence of our diets and cultural habits.

For centuries, the foods we eat have played a crucial role in shaping our skulls. Contrary to what many believe, diet often has a bigger impact than genetics or ethnicity. Dr. Weston Price, who traveled to fourteen countries in the late 1920s and 1930s, observed this firsthand. In isolated communities unaffected by industrialized food, he found people with perfect dental arches, minimal tooth decay, strong immunity against diseases like tuberculosis, and excellent overall health. However, in areas where modern diets with white flour, sugar, refined oils, and canned goods were common, he noticed severe dental problems, misaligned jaws, arthritis, and weaker immunity, all emerging within just two generations.

Today, this issue persists. Poor jaw development can lead to smaller jaws, longer faces, and crowded teeth, which in turn affect sleep and breathing. If our jaws don’t develop fully, it can restrict airflow in our nasal cavities, leading to high vaulted palates and deviated septums. A narrow upper jaw (maxilla) can cause the soft palate to become elongated and loose. This, combined with a retrusive maxilla (underdeveloped upper jaw), restricts the airway behind the soft palate and causes the lower jaw (mandible) to be positioned further back, pushing the tongue downward and backward. This airway obstruction can result in sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep.

The severity of this problem, known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), ranges from mild to severe based on the degree of skeletal underdevelopment and the placement and tone of soft tissues. A related condition, Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS), often goes undiagnosed because its symptoms are milder compared to sleep apnea. Regardless of the severity, any restriction in the airway can negatively affect overall health and well-being.

So, how can we address these issues? Revisiting dietary and lifestyle practices is crucial, especially for children. Promoting breastfeeding, addressing tongue ties in infants, practicing baby-led weaning, and ensuring early dietary interventions can support better facial development and health. Dr. Price’s research highlights the importance of a nutrient-dense, whole food diet and mindful eating habits for maintaining craniofacial health across generations.

As we continue to understand the impact of diet on facial development, it’s important to incorporate this knowledge into our daily lives. By recognizing the links between nutrition, facial structure, and overall health, we can work towards a healthier future for ourselves and future generations.

Dr. Kevin Schwandt practices dentistry at Reclaim Integrative Dentistry & Implant Center in Wheat Ridge.

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