The Anthropological Impact:

Modern Diet, Skeletal Evolution & Airway Integrity

Throughout human history, our facial features have not only served as identifiers but also as storytellers of our past. From the chiseled jaws of our ancestors to the varied dental landscapes of modern society, the evolution of facial growth and development stands as a testament to the profound influence of dietary habits and cultural practices. In this article, we explore the effect our diet has had on the shape of our skull, the overall health of our mouths, as well as our sleeping & breathing patterns

Generations before us have witnessed a remarkable interplay between dietary choices and the formation of our skulls. Contrary to popular belief, genetic predispositions and ethnic factors often take a backseat to the overwhelming impact of diet. Take, for instance, Dr. Weston Price’s extensive travels spanning fourteen countries over a decade back in the late 1920s and 1930s. In remote regions untouched by industrialization, he encountered populations boasting impeccable dental arches, minimal tooth decay, robust immunity against tuberculosis, and excellent overall health. However, upon visiting areas where modernized diets featuring white flour, white sugar, refined vegetable oils, and canned goods had been introduced, he observed a stark contrast. Inhabitants displayed rampant dental caries, malformed jaw structures, dental misalignment, arthritis, and compromised immunity against tuberculosis, changes that occurred in as quickly as one and two generations.

Today, we’re seeing that as structural underdevelopment increases, jaws get smaller, faces get longer, and teeth get crowded which will in turn lead to a significant impact on sleep and breathing. If the jaws don’t grow to their full potential, we see those bony structures restrict airflow. This can happen in the nasal cavity with the prevalence of high vaulted palates and deviated septums. With a narrow maxilla, the soft palate gets longer and flabby, like a loose rope. 

An underdeveloped and retrusive maxilla leads to the airway behind the soft palate becoming restricted while also causing the mandible to become trapped and retrusive. This pushes the tongue down and backward, which can obstruct the airway, leading to sleep apnea. The magnitude of the skeletal underdevelopment, the placement and muscle tone of the soft tissues, as well as other factors, contributes to the severity of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), diagnosed as mild, moderate,  or severe. Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS) is another consequential effect of skeletal underdevelopment that is often underdiagnosed due to its presenting more mildly than sleep apnea. All restrictions along the airway, regardless of severity or symptom presentation, can ultimately impact overall health and well-being.

So what can we do to change course? While navigating the complexities of contemporary dietary landscapes, it becomes imperative to revisit best practices for nurturing optimal growth and development, especially in children. Concepts such as breastfeeding, tongue tie releases in infants, baby-led weaning, and early dietary interventions take center stage, offering promising avenues for safeguarding craniofacial health and overall well-being. Price’s work serves as a beacon, advocating for a return to nutrient-dense, hard food diets, and mindful eating habits for generations to come.

As we continue to understand the evolution of facial growth and development, it is important to integrate knowledge of the impact of our dietary and lifestyle choices into the way we live and practice. By exploring and addressing the connections between nutrition, facial structure, and holistic well-being, we can work toward a healthier, more vibrant future.

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