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Early Intervention (ages 3-6)

Early Orthodontic Intervention for Louisville, CO kids ages 3 to 6 years has lifelong benefits

Every mother wants the best for her child, now and throughout life. That includes comfort, health, and appearance. Dr. Tracey Hughes understands. She is a mother, too. She became intimately aware of the importance of Early Intervention Strategies  for kids at ages 3 to 6 years, when dealing with her own daughter’s jaw and bite issues. The experience led Dr. Hughes to expand her expertise, offering treatment to help other children in the Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette, and Louisville, CO area achieve their full potential.

What do you need to know about Early Orthodontic Intervention for ages 3 to 6 years in Louisville, CO?

Baby with mother

Facial muscles, tongue, and jaw usage have a crucial role in jaw and forward facial development. Muscles develop from proper usage of the lower jaw during chewing. The tongue is a very strong muscle that guides the face forward during development. For the tongue to perform this important role during development, the child must keep the mouth closed, maintaining lip seal and swallowing properly. But this is a big problem for children in our modern culture. Why?

Bottle feeding has become more prevalent in this industrialized society. Artificial nipples force a baby to alter tongue position from high in the palate, to low in the mouth so they can let air in and get milk out of the bottle. In contrast, when baby nurses on a mother’s nipple, the mouth is completely sealed to form complete suction and a negative pressure. Lip seal forces the baby to 100 percent breath nasally. Bottle nursing teaches the baby to breath orally, which carries on through childhood causing mouth breathing later in life.

Modern lifestyle infants are fed pureed, “mushy” baby foods very early on before they are ready for solid food. The reflex to properly swallow solid foods does not develop for 12 to 15 months. When prematurely introducing solid foods by spoon or pouch feeding baby food as early as 4 to 6 months, we unintentionally teach the baby to swallow improperly.

A proper swallow requires the tongue to be positioned high up on the palate, with no activity of the facial or neck muscles. This swallowing stance enhances a forward and outward force on the upper jaw, encouraging the forward growth of the face.

During an improper swallow, when introducing soft solid foods too early, the tongue postures low on the floor of the mouth, not supporting the upper jaw. Over time, cheek and facial muscles begin to push inward, resulting in a narrowed upper jaw which results in incomplete forward facial development. Once a baby or toddler learns this type of abnormal swallow, it is very difficult to retrain. It is estimated that 80 percent of our population has some form of infantile swallow pattern.

Another effect of pureed baby food is the lack of muscle usage of the jaws during the function. When jaw muscles are not put to use at an age when the baby is ready to wean, they weaken. Underused jaws will not develop to their full genetic potential, contributing to an elongated face and open mouth posture.

Our ancestors all had big jaws, wide dental arches, straight teeth, and superior forward facial development compared to modern humans. Their babies weaned from nursing on mother, straight to solid foods when the child was ready. Ancestral tribal babies were fed a tougher, fibrous diet of wild game, fruits, and vegetables, which developed strong muscles of the jaws as they chewed, ensuring forward facial development.

Babies need to learn to chew and swallow when the time is right, without suckling solid foods down before they are ready. They need to swallow with teeth together and proper tongue position on the roof of the mouth, at the same time training jaw muscles from an early age.

For more information on weaning baby from breastfeeding to solid foods, please reference the book Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. Or schedule a consultation with Dr. Hughes right away to receive a free copy of Baby Led Weaning.

What is the importance of nasal breathing vs. mouth breathing?

Environmental allergens or food allergies to casein/milk and gluten/wheat create chronic inflammation of the lining of the nasal passages and adenoids. Nasal breathing is our primary physiologic means of respiration. Mouth breathing should be a secondary or emergency way to breath if one is unable to move air through the nose. If a child is unable to breath through their nose due to blocked nasal passages, they must posture their tongue lower in the mouth to take in air.

The midface stops developing forward and begins to develop downward. The lower jaw accommodates the underdeveloped upper jaw, often resulting in temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) and/or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Mouth breathing is not normal and will affect facial growth, causing incomplete development of the midface and dental crowding.

Mouth breathing is the primary cause of a small mouth and crowded teeth, and it destroys attractive facial symmetry. If open mouth breathing has already begun in your child, please see Dr. Hughes for evaluation and guidance.

What should you remember?

Sleeping babyWhen your child’s tongue is in proper position, high in the palate, with a lip sealed posture, teeth will align nice and straight – around the border of the tongue which creates a broad, beautiful U-shaped jaw.

Proper tongue posture, lip posture, and swallow pattern ensure the child develops a forward face with an attractive jawline, wide palate, and superior facial beauty with broad features. Incorrect tongue position, lip posture, and swallow pattern lead to the child developing a narrow palate, incomplete development of the midface, teeth crowding, and a small jawline. The result is a “no chin” look, with a longer, unaesthetic facial appearance.

These characteristics are most easily influenced by developmental orthodontics early in life – ages 3 to 6 years.

What can you do to promote your child’s proper orofacial development, avoid soft tissue dysfunction, and prevent TMD/OSA?

  • Breastfeed if possible.
  • If you must bottle feed, use NUK nipples in the right size for the child.
  • Avoid pacifiers.
  • If you cannot avoid pacifier use, use NUK brank.
  • Do not allow thumb sucking or finger sucking.
  • Avoid soft baby food. Instead, wean your child into solids.
  • Do not give your child cow’s milk. It is perfect for baby cows; not baby humans.
  • Avoid using sippy cups with straws or valves. Use the trainer cup lid only.
  • Ensure your child is a nose breather, not a mouth breather. This is critical!
  • If the child can breath through the nose, consider lip taping (with discretion), to train nasal breathing. Please discuss lip taping with your physician prior to attempting.
  • You notice mouth breathing, test for allergies. Try removing milk from the child’s diet as it is the number one allergy cause, followed by gluten.
  • If allergies cannot be controlled, have enlarged tonsils and adenoids removed.
  • Have your child (age 2 to 5) use a soft dental chewing appliance with a handle.
  • If teeth are crowded, do not allow any dentist to extract teeth to make room.
  • Discuss with Dr. Hughes orthopedic development of the mid-face using a removable AGGA orthopedic appliance when the child reaches age 6, or a fixed AGGA orthopedic appliance for ages 11 and older.
  • Have Dr. Hughes evaluate your child for a myofunctional disorder, and train proper tongue position and swallow pattern with myofunctional therapy
  • Consult with Dr. Hughes about physiologic protractive orthodontics to ensure teeth are straightened with consideration for TMJ and muscle physiology.

Call 303-732-5388 to schedule your child’s developmental evaluation at Boulder Valley Dental Center in Louisville, CO.