Have you ever wondered if there is a holistic alternative to braces?
Do you analyze your child’s palate development like most moms scrutinize growth chart milestones? If so, you’re going to love this interview with Dr. Felix Liao, an honorary board member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and speaker at conferences hosted by the International College of Integrative Medicine, the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Weston A. Price Foundation, and Holistic Moms’ Network, among others.
Thank you joining us today, Dr. Liao!
Me: Even though we’ve just met I want to confess something my closest friends don’t know: I’m obsessed with Brad Pitt!! I know, I’m **just** a decade or so behind, but really it’s just his jawline that interests me. You see, all this talk from the Weston A. Price foundation about how diet leads to well-formed jawlines and straight teeth got me wondering – What did Brad’s mom eat while she was carrying him??
Do you ever study people’s facial features and guess about the nutrition they received in utero? For those of us that are new to the topic, can you explain the connection?
Dr. Liao: Yes, I do study people’s faces, especially athletic winners.
There is no known nutrition formula to predictably produce a Brad Pitt jaw line. There are only sound principles and the emerging field of epigenetics to guide us.
Epigenetics is a new field of research on the interaction between an individual’s DNA and the surrounding environment. The term literally means “on top of genes.” It explains variations in the health and body in children of the same parents. Brad Pitts’ jaw line is the sum of genes and epigenetics, i.e. nutrition in-utero, breast feeding, childhood nutrition and environment.
Price’s primitives have straight and strong teeth not only because they grew up eating whole foods, but also because their ancestors had done so since time immemorial, with zero contamination of factory processed foods or environmental pollution. Nutrition plays a role, but so do the genes from mom, dad, grand parents, and great grand parents.
The formation of face, jaws, and teeth is governed by a particular set of genes from both parents and their family trees. It continues with maternal health and whole foods rich in folic acids, sea food, nuts, eggs, and vitamin D.
After birth, breast feeding is what develops the jaws. That’s simply the Law of Form & Function expressing itself. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies. By comparison, formula is factory food, and bottle feeding leads to stunted jaws, weak chin, and crowded teeth.
If adult foods is introduced prematurely, the baby will develop allergies, ear infections, tonsillitis, and mouth breathing. Mouth breathing from food or environmental allergies will retard jaw and facial development by the Law of Form & Function in reverse.
Balanced nutrition, breast feeding, absence of mouth breathing from air and food allergies bring out the highest genetic potential. Brad Pitt [probably] grew up with all the right mix of good ingredients and none of the bad ones. I’d speculate that he grew up in a outdoors-like neighborhood in a relatively unpolluted region, as had his mom. He’s a good example that great dental facial features happen under the right conditions, even in modern times.
Me: Your comment about bringing out “the highest genetic potential” got me thinking about Michael Jordan. Did you know he was breastfed until he was three? Very interesting!
I have a question, though, about when conditions are not optimal. Chemical exposure over the past several generations has now affected milk glands in some women. For this and other reasons many women have expressed to me that though their heart was set on breastfeeding they found it necessary to supplement with donated breastmilk, homemade formula or formula.
Even exclusively breastfed children are not without functional challenges these days. My son was born tongue-tied. We didn’t realize it until he was five months old and it took three months and two procedures to fully resolve it. I wonder how his limited range of motion in those early month might affect his dental development.
I’m not detouring the interview for my own selfish reasons, promise! For whatever reason – but most likely due to our increased chemical exposure – it seems more and more mothers are discovering that their babies are tongue-tied. Can you share with us some guidelines for helping our babies achieve optimal development after this issue is identified and corrected? Would breastfeeding for longer after a corrective surgery make a difference?
Dr. Liao: I must say I am not a pediatric expert. I do not feel qualified to say how long breast feeding should last, but I am keenly interested in learning from you and your community.
The transition from breast milk to mushed adult food is critical. Eighty percent of the immune system is in the GI tract, That’s how the body knows friend from foe, and what to take in and reject. So the milk-to-food transition is part of the training and development of the emerging immune and digestive system.
Life long allergies and medical challenges can come from immune reactions such as ear aches, diarrhea, and irritability triggered by wrong diet transition. Subsequent antibiotics to treat these reactions to wrong diet can rob the GI tract of healthy development of good bacteria. A nasty medical fate is thus sealed. The details of the transition are best left to breast feeding experts and nutritional professionals, but I’d love to know what you find.
Regarding your son, trust that he knows how to make up lost ground once you had his tongue tie fixed. His growth trajectory and medical fate changed with that Mommypotamus move — my compliments!
Me: **Sigh of relief** Thank you, Dr. Liao! I’d ask you about methods for achieving optimal development for bottle-fed babies, but I know we’re going to get into that in just a bit. Before we do, though, I’d like to ask about mouth breathing. I’d never thought of it as an, um, medical condition, but it can really lead to poor jaw and facial development?
Dr. Liao: The mouth is the gateway into the body. It is also a baby’s nourishment port after birth. Weaning from mom’s milk to “regular” food represents an introduction of the outside world into a kid’s inside for the first time.
“To absorb, or reject?” That is the question the body must decide. Once food is swallowed, the digestive can only react. That’s why 80% of the immune system lies in the intestines. This innate intelligence can tell “friend” (mom’s milk) from “foe” (salmonella or pharmaceutical residues in tap water). A series of bad “first dates” can sensitize a kid’s intestinal tract to mark certain foods for life-long allergies (GM soy, corn, and peanuts, industrial pollutants, etc.) Wean with care is the advice. The Weston A Price Foundation is one great resource.
Many chronically ill patients have come to see me to investigate dental causes. These patients often exclaim “How do you know?!” when I ask them about this pattern of
- Premature cessation of breast feeding, overly early introduction of adult foods,
- Troublesome childhood medically: digestive distress, diarrhea, allergies, ear-nose-throat infections, which is often treated with antibiotics, which in turn wipes out the good bacteria for good digestion,
- Fatigue and lethargy follows, “Don’t feel like playing with friends, and too tired to go to school”.
- Stuffy nose, dry tongue, chapped lips, and mouth breathing.
Mouth breathing moves the tongue from its natural posture against the palate and the sides of upper teeth. With nasal breathing and lip seal, the tongue can expand the upper jaw and indirectly help grow mid-face.
[Mommypotamus here. I’m adding in these videos as a visual compliment to Dr. Liao’s explanation. Please know that they use real individuals to point out problems in jaw function and facial development. Personally I cringe at this and wish they would use drawings or models, but because they were so valuable in helping me to visualize proper jaw function I am including them)
In this video a South African dentist explains why breathing through the nose (instead of the mouth) is so important.
Dr. Liao: A good face is convex in profile — without a flat upper lip, or weak chin. A good face is balanced in front, with even eyes, ears, straight nose, and a level mouth within a symmetrical head. This happens only when all the cranial (skull) and jaw bones are in harmonious balance, and without mouth breathing.
Parents of young children should watch for mouth breathing with front-burner vigilance because it can:
- Perpetuate allergies because air-borne allergens are not filtered out by the nose
- Retard the flowering of the mid-face (between the eyes and the upper lip)
- Reduce energy and the desire to play and thrive
- Stunt the natural of expansion of the upper jaw by the tongue
- Initiate or contribute to malocclusion (bad bite), teeth crowding, and teeth grinding
In the Whole Health model, teeth are simply surface markers of bony architecture under the facial features, because they are all connected.
A good face will have straight teeth aligned naturally by the basic functions of breathing, eating, swallowing, and before that breast feeding. That is the famous Law of Form and Function. Natural health comes from good function of all body parts, which comes from good form, which in turn originates from genes and continues with nasal breathing, eating, and swallowing.
Conversely, crowded teeth and malocclusion always mean that a price is being paid somewhere: ear aches, sinus and throat infections, impaired vision, reduced hearing and learning, low motivation, and disinterest in sports and play. Under-sized jaws from mouth breathing has life long consequences, such as snoring, sleep apnea, heart disease, chronic fatigue, depression, and susceptibility to infections.
Me: Wow, that sounds . . . . bad. I had terrible immune function as a child that lead to lethargy AND I am near-sighted. Not surprisingly, I have a narrow jaw. I’m hoping my kids facial structure will develop properly thanks to good nutrition and breastfeeding, but what if that doesn’t happen for some reason? I read on your website that a prolonged struggle in the birth canal can affect proper skull development. That describes my son’s birth pretty well. Factoring that with his tongue tie I’d say I’m pretty concerned. We’ve just begun cranio-sacral therapy to try to address these issues, but if there are lingering problems is there a way we can correct them? I’m thinking of bottle fed babies, too. Is orthodontics the solution?
Check out part 2 on orthodontics here!
Photo credit: Michael Jordan