Our Modern Skulls

After reading the article, Our Skulls are Out-Evolving Us by Katherine Reynolds Lewis, I was scared! I couldn’t help but think about my two boys who are relatively good sleepers, but seem to be more tired and out of control than other boys their age. Maybe it was by faith that my childhood dentist, who my family continues to see, has become a renowned researcher and educator on Myofunctional Therapy. My dentist, along with many contributors of this article are taking a strong stance; “A motley crew of scientists argue that our ever-shrinking skulls are wreaking havoc on our well- being.” Our smaller faces do the most harm in one area crucial to physical and mental health: our ability to get a good night’s rest. There has been an alarming trend in human development causing implications with breathing and sleeping. Over the last 250 years, our skulls have morphed in dangerous and troubling ways. Science suggests the following are a modern phenomenon: crooked teeth, overbites, narrow jaws, and small nasal airways.

Skeletal remains shows that 300 hundred years ago, humans had healthy breathing because they had straight/aligned teeth, wide jaws, flat palates, and large nasal passages. Today, our children have insufficient space in their mouths, therefore there is inadequate room for adult teeth leading to crowding and misalignment. The worst part is that this anatomy encourages mouth- breathing and sleep difficulties which can in turn lead to bigger problems including: behavioral challenges, anxiety, depression, and cognitive delays.

A study* found that restricting children’s sleep by 30 minutes a night for less than a week lowered their neuropsychological functioning by the equivalent of two years. Another* discovered that young children with sleep disordered breathing on average earned grades 12% lower than their peers. On average, kids have been losing a minute of sleep per year for the last century!! “It’s such a multidimensional problem,” said Diane Bahr, a Las Vegas-based feeding specialist and author of the book Feed Your Infant and Toddler Right. “We need a stream of parent and professional education and an appropriate stream of treatment.”

Our world is different, so how do we deal with the fact that our modern life is disrupting our complex biological systems in our skulls?!?! It is a fact that there is a rise in allergies, asthma, developmental delays, and anxiety…wouldn’t it make sense to maybe look at root causes and assess sleep? The typical path for children with sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing like snoring, is removal of tonsils and adenoids. BUT what if this surgery does not help sleep patterns?? As an occupational feeding therapist, I feel it is my job and duty to help both the medical community and parents understand the serious impact of our changing skulls. Why are there no early intervention screenings that address sleep or nighttime breathing?? A simple question like, “does your child snore?”, could be invaluable. Parents know sleep is important, but they may not realize how proper sleep relies on a wide dental arch, tongue on the roof of the mouth, and long lower jaw.

Infinity Kids really aims to look at the whole child and I feel strongly about the connection between breathing + sleep AND feeding + language acquisition + behavior. “When children don’t sleep, they’re cranky, moody, their expressive language is all impaired.” Our occupational and speech therapists are trained in mouth and tongue anatomy and soon our staff will also be trained in myofunctional therapy–which teaches tongue and lip exercises to reshape mouth muscles that in turn facilitates better breathing and sleep.

– Tala Brindersson MA, OTR/L

Infinity Kids Owner + Occupational Therapist