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 that he is said to have been 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?
Dr. Liao: A 28 y.o. man was referred to me by a patient for teeth grinding, “homeless” bite, overweight by 30 pounds, heel pain both feet, waking up tired, medically-diagnosed sleep apnea, C-PAP intolerance, and ED. His history included braces twice for a total of 7 years, and four teeth were extracted in high school. The spaces left by the extraction were closed with retraction orthodontics. So he now has straight teeth with a miserable body. The cause: reduced oral volume from extraction and retraction orthodontics. His tongue is now a 6 foot tiger in a 3 foot cage. His sleep test shows an average of 25 arousals per hour because his body is struggling with Code Blue to get more air past the tongue in his throat. That’s why he wakes up tired, and that’s also why he is putting on wads of fat around his belly. His body is experiencing stress alarms during sleep, and stocking up on fuel to deal with siege is exactly what survival calls for.
Me: So you’re saying that traditional orthodontics can do more harm than good?
Dr Liao: Traditional orthodontics does a lot of good when properly practiced. To avoid having a 10 foot polar bear hunting in a 6 foot igloo, however, you want expansion rather than extraction and retraction orthodontics. Typical orthodontists are well-trained in dental schools on how to line teeth up straight. I am a general dentist who champions the idea of a holistic mouth — one that is an asset rather than a liability to whole body health. This is not yet taught in dental schools. Dentists are trained to be good tooth mechanics and safe operators. But the mouth is more than teeth, as the case above illustrates. You need a mouth doctor just like you need a heart and brain doctor. The mouth is pivotal organ for overall health and natural wellness. Sleeping with the tongue partly or most in your throat is sure way to look and feel old fast. So my concerns go beyond just straight and white teeth. My concerns include:
- Alignment of jaws and teeth with cranial (skull) bones and spine
- Breathing without tongue blocking the airway
- Circulation without dental and periodontal infections
- Digestion without dental and environmental toxins
I am sure there are enlightened orthodontists who do the same for their patients. Holistic mouth care as a universally recognized health requirement is still like the New World before Columbus put it on the map, i.e. too new for most doctors who are satisfied with their professional education.
Me: Okay, I am sooooo close to hopping on a plane and bringing Micah to you right now for a consult. But, um, at 1.5 years old I’m guessing he wouldn’t be a very cooperative patient. Is there an ideal age to bring a child to someone like you?
Dr. Liao: Optimal dental-facial development has two parts: bone-to-bone orthopedic alignment, and teeth-to-teeth orthodontic alignment. Orthopedics refers to the relationship between cranial bones and jaw bones, and spine. The dental-facial skeleton has a set of rules on postural health and comfort, just like the spinal and pelvic skeleton. If the dental-facial skeleton is off balance or not symmetrical, some signs will show up. After age 12, adult teeth come through and locks in the existing orthopedic problems for life. Symptoms in head, neck, jaw sometimes do not show up until after age 20 when growth stops in milder cases, but will show up during growth years during severe cases. Mouth breathing from nasal obstruction is a critical factor for initiating dental crowding and orthodontic problems. So it is best to recognize and treat early while the bones are soft and easy to re-align:
Evaluation by parents and a physician, be it medical, naturopathic, osteopathic, chiropractic or dental physician trained in recognized head-neck misalignment. Symptoms can include spit-up regularly after feeding, irritability, incessant crying through the night without let up. Also checkup on tongue tie.
Valuation of developing baby teeth and bite by dentist. Best to bring child into dentist as a tag along when Mom or Dad is having teeth cleaned to show such visits are safe. Observe for mouth breathing, tongue tie, overbite, cavities, diet, dental hygiene, cross-bite, teeth grinding, finger sucking, frequent yawning during day, energy level, etc.
Evaluation for arch width and facial asymmetry such as one eye higher, one ear more flared, one mouth corner higher, head tilt, forward neck, weak chin, flat feet, etc.
Treatment of all orthopedic issues and allow teeth to come into jaws already in good orthopedic alignment with head and neck. Best practice is to correct mouth breathing, ensure full nasal breathing, and align head-jaws-neck orthopedics before age 10 when cranial-jaws-neck orthopedics drives the orthodontic relationship (how teeth come together). All too often, the mouth and the bite is left out of holistic care.
Me: Alrighty, Micah is seeing a cranio-sacral therapist to correct orthopedic misalignment due either to his birth or tongue tie so I think we’re right on track. But I want to do MORE! What steps can you recommend for mamas that want to be proactive in these early years?
Dr. Liao: Dr. Weston Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, found that the maxilla, the bone that forms the mid-face from the base of the eyes to the smile line of upper teeth, is susceptible to nutritional factors. I find that the maxilla is easily stunted development by mouth breathing from allergies and stuffy nose. Our bodies are taking more and more hits from environment and processed foods that can affect dental facial development. Just compare the faces of actors and actresses in the black & white era compared to today. Gone are the broad faces smiles of Gina Davis and Julia Roberts.
One reason is that our bodies are taking more and more hits from environment and processed foods that can affect dental facial development. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) did a study (2005) that shows 10 cord blood samples across US has 297 chemicals in them, 180 of them carcinogenic, and 217 are toxic to brain and nervous systems. They are in our clothing, food packaging, and furnitures. So join EWG and the Weston A. Price Foundation to get educated and stay informed. EWG offers a lists of fruits and vegetables with highest pesticides and safe cosmetics list, while WAPF.org offers Shopping Guides and many educational materials and workshops.
What can you do for your child as a parent? Breastfeeding and good nutrition are natural and important starts. Next, observe the child for the signs and symptoms listed above, they can take corrective steps under the guidance of like-minded health and dental professionals. Osteopathic and chiropractic physicians who do cranial work are invaluable resources. Ask them for dental referrals, and ask WHY. Look for WAPF and EWG members who are nutritionally conscious and offer educational information. For example, I will be speaking to Holistic Moms’ Network next month — another great resource for your readers.
For adults like you, look up Epigenetic Orthodontics, or go to the DNA appliance system website for information and referrals. DNA is a new orthopedic appliance that can restart the dental-facial development in adults that was blocked by mouth breathing and allergies during growth years. It has helped my patients stop snoring, widen narrow jaws, resolve neck and back pain, reduce facial creases, restore energy, and uplift mood.
Me: You bet I will! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us today, Dr. Liao. I learned a lot!
Update: Your Questions Answered
After this post was published a few weeks ago I received a lot of questions for Dr. Liao. Read below to find out if pacifiers/binkies are helpful or harmful, what causes teeth grinding, how to find a holistic dentist and more!
Palate Expansion For Kids
So, when you take your kids in to get their palate expanded, is there a special type of palate expansion, or just the regular one that all orthodontists use? Anyone had any experience with this? ~ A.B.
Dr. Liao: The more dental-facial asymmetry, the more I lean toward DNA appliance. Those include one eye or ear higher, head tilt, uneven shoulders, deviated nose, and one side of the palate narrower than the other. Otherwise, conventional expanders will do.
“I would love to know what treatment an adult can do to correct teeth grinding. I have never had a brace but grind my teeth terrible and it has caused me no end of issues. My teeth are being destroyed from it! What treatment would Dr Liao have a patient do? Thank you! Also is there a worldwide database of Dentists who practice like this?” ~Gittele
“I second the teeth grinding question. I’ve tried so many treatments (yoga, exercise, running, acupressure, essential oils) and mouth guards, and ultimately spent a lot of money. But none of it has been a permanent solution. My current mouth guard I have to wear every night. If I forget to put it in, I get migraines, damaged teeth and very tense jaw/neck/shoulder muscles, not to mention I wake up everyone else in the house. Doctors and dentists keep saying that the usual cause is stress, but I would not consider myself stressed at all (despite what they say, I think I would know). I feel like there has to be some underlying cause that no one is looking for!” ~ Brianne
Dr. Liao: Teeth grinding interests me a great deal because it makes no sense that the body would mutilate itself. In a nutshell, leading edge thinking now says teeth grinding is a brain event expressed dentally. The event is called low oxygen from airway insufficiency from the obstruction by the tongue because the mouth is too small for the tongue. Think of the tongue as a 6 foot tiger in a 3-foot cage formed by under-developed jaws (often with crowded teeth or extraction for braces). Lying down causes the tongue to fall into the throat when the jaws are underdeveloped and/or positioned too closed to the neck. After a while, the body cables the brain to say, “We are starving for oxygen. Do something fast! Anything!” The brain then does the only thing it can: move the lower jaw to get the tongue out of the throat.
So Brianne is right. There is some other cause. Teeth grinding is actually CPR being done by the body to itself in response to Code Blue (oxygen starvation). Expanding the 3 foot cage (jaws) to accommodate the 6 foot tiger is the only way to make peace for the body and the brain. My upcoming book will discuss this in detail.
(Note from Heather: This makes perfect sense to me. However, sometimes a symptom can have more than one root cause. Nutritional deficiencies (esp. magnesium and calcium) and pinworms have also been implicated as causes of teeth grinding.)
No, there is no world wide directory yet. Click here to search for a trained practitioner near you.
“I’m curious about pacifiers/binkies. Is there research or evidence suggesting whether they are helpful/harmful? I’ve used one with my son because he really always wants it. When he was younger I gave it to him because I wanted him to breathe through his nose instead of through his mouth. So with all the talk about nose breathing, I’m just curious about your opinion on binkies/pacifiers.” ~ Trish
“I second the pacifier question – I know that the children who were photographed by Price had perfect teeth and probably were nursed ’til they were three or four, but pacifiers are probably different than real nipples. I’d love to hear a professional opinion!” ~ A.B.
Dr. Liao: I have no experience or research for pacifiers. But they strike me as a substitute for thumb/finger sucking, which is an attempt by the child to self-relieve tensions in the cranial (skull) bones. The best solution is to find a doctor in your community who does cranial work, e.g. an osteopath, chiropractor, or cranio-sacral therapist. One new born would spit up after nursing and then cry all night. This went on for 2 months and both parents were exhausted. It took one visit to the osteopath to resolve the problem completely, and never to return. Releasing the jammed skull bones helps reduce the start of malocclusion (bad bite).
(Note from Heather: This is very interesting to me. Micah was an avid thumb sucker until he had surgery to correct his tongue tie – in fact the pic I shared right before the surgery is one of him sucking his thumb! From that point forward, though, he never did it again. I always wondered why until now!)
Treatments For Mouth Breathing
“What does one do to correct mouth breathing in kids? I feel this is part of the reason for my son’s tooth decay because he doesn’t close his mouth for saliva to do its job.” ~ Beka
Yes, mouth breathing contributes to cavities by drying up saliva and and with it the protection against decay. Correction is to first identify source of allergies from food first. The most frequent culprits are diary, wheat, soy, sugar (esp. HFCS, high fructose corn syrup — look up www.mercola.com). Avoid anything cold at meal time: ice water, cold milk, frozen desserts, etc. Cold slows digestion which contributes to gut stagnancy and leads to intestinal inflammation which then shows up in the respiratory tract, including tonsillitis and sinusitis. You might also consider checking the home for mold.
“I would to know more about fixing sleep apnea with this device [the DNA Appliance]. My husband uses a CPAP at night and would love to stop using it, but is exhausted when does. Can you really fix this problem, what is involved and how long does it usually take? Thanks for all the helpful info!” ~ Monica
It depends on the severity of his sleep apnea. In non-severe cases (AHI score lower than 30), DNA appliance works well. In severe cases, active effort to lose weight, avoid all dairy, wheat, soy, and sugar (especially High Fructose Corn Syrup) is essential. Avoid processed food completely for a month and check results. “Diseases which cannot be treated through diet are incurable with any medicine”, said Hippocrates in 450 BC. Eat a light dinner by 6 PM and go to bed by 10 PM. There are two types of dental sleep appliances. DNA appliance widens jaws to make room for the tongue in the mouth, whereas Mandibular Advancement Devices (MAD) because they move the lower jaw forward (and the tongue with it) during sleep only. MAD does not expand the jaws and thus serves as a “crutch” without treating the cause of under-sized jaws, but it is effective in mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. MAD does not move teeth, whereas DNA does. So DNA appliance has a second part to it for locking in the orthopedic gains from widening the jaws. DNA appliance does help patients breathe better during the day.
“I had a bionator (I think that was what it was called) as a child. It worked so well to correct a very severe overbite. However, I still have a very deep bite. I probably could have had it corrected as a child, but we moved away from the only dentist who addressed these issues. Also, my second little boy had tongue tie, and a very rough birth. Is there anything that I should be doing for him? (he is 3 now) He also has an overbite and a very deep bite. Is the bionator a good option when he gets older? It was such an easy and painless fix for me as a child, but I don’t know it is what is “best”. I don’t have any jaw problems, but I do notice that I have become more of a mouth breather as I have gotten older. I have also recently noticed that my head is definitely jutting out and causing headaches and neck aches. This is all so fascinating for me, and I have a ton of questions!” ~ Mandy
Bionator is good for deep bite correction, but there are other ways, too. Be sure your 3 year old is able to breathe through his nose, and that he does not [still] have a tongue tie. Forward neck and backward head tilt is a sign of airway insufficiency.
Palate Expansion For Adults
“Such an interesting post – thanks Mommypotamus and Dr. Liao! My question is, what can one do to correct such problems later on in life? I am 22 and have terrible neck, back and shoulder pain which I believe stems from my jaw, which aches and clicks and always feels tense. I had dental overcrowding and underwent palate expansion as a teenager, but I feel my jaw wasn’t quite expanded enough as my mouth still feels crowded, I have a slight over-jet and my wisdom teeth have come through all wrong (upper two growing out towards my cheek, bottom two towards the other teeth). Is it too late to correct these problems, and if not what would you recommend?” ~ Mali Korsten
No, it’s not too late. 22 is still on the good side of 40. Stem cells in the ligaments that anchor teeth to the jaws can be triggered into making bone at any age. Neck, shoulder and back pain is the price paid for misaligned jaws and bite. Such pain goes away naturally when the jaws and bite are put in the right place, i.e. in harmony with head and neck. Dental crowding and clicking jaw joints are other common features of misaligned head-jaws-neck. Properly designed DNA appliance can fix that, followed braces to lock in the orthopedic gains.
How To Find A Holistic Dentist
“My question is where and how to find such practitioners. I have called everywhere in my state with no success, I found one holistic dentist however she would not take children.”
Here are some tips for finding a holistic dentist in your area (some are considered holistic simply because they use biocompatible materials, others have more advanced training such as Dr. Liao). Ramiel Nagel, whose protocol I used to heal Katie’s cavities, also has some great resources for finding a holistic dentist here.
Still have questions? Wonderful! Leave a comment below and it may be covered in a future post!
Photo credits:Palate expander (Dr. Liao)