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I have been fascinated by dental health for a very long time, so you can imagine my excitement when I had the chance to interview the legendary holistic dentist Dr. Steven Lin on the podcast. He specializes in root causes and solutions for common dental problems… even crooked teeth!
Dr. Lin confirmed many of the things that I am already doing as alternatives to braces for my kids and taught me some new things as well. A lot of this advice isn’t being shared in conventional dentist offices (yet), but that is starting to change!
A Holistic Approach to Dental Health
When I was getting braces as a kid I remember asking my orthodontist what made my teeth crooked to begin with. He said it was genetics. If that were true then many of my ancestors would have had crooked teeth (and the same goes for any family who has crooked teeth in their genetics).
But if you ask anthropologists about crooked teeth, they’ll laugh. People just didn’t have crooked teeth until around the Industrial Revolution. As Dr. Steven Lin mentions in the podcast, genetics has something to do with it, but our modern diets may be the biggest culprit.
As far as the link between food and dental health goes, conventional wisdom tells us that sugar causes cavities and that’s the extent of the connection. But food is much more connected to oral health than that.
Dr. Steven Lin explains in his book The Dental Diet how food is directly related to dental issues. Dr. Weston A. Price began the research in the 1930s and others have come to the same conclusions:
- Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2 are essential for proper jaw and facial development
- Healthy fats are essential for acquiring and absorbing these vitamins
Unfortunately, modern diets are especially poor in these important nutrients, resulting in malformed jaws, snoring, and crooked teeth.
How Fat-Soluble Vitamins Make Teeth Straight (or Not)
Dr. Price found that communities that stuck to their traditional diets (which were as much as 20 times higher in fat-soluble vitamins than the standard Western diet today) had beautiful, straight teeth. These traditional cultures also rarely used toothbrushes or toothpaste either.
Vitamin A is important for bone building cells and facial growth signals. The body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vitamin K2 has been recently understood to activate proteins that help carry minerals to bones and teeth. Yet with modern diets, we often don’t get enough of these important nutrients.
These vitamins work together and without them, the jaw can’t form properly. If the jaw and mouth are too small for all of the teeth to come in properly, they can become crowded and crooked.
Clues Your Child Is Prone to Crooked Teeth
It’s been thought that kids either get crooked teeth or they don’t, and you won’t know until they get their adult teeth. Dr. Lin suggests that there are signs that parents can look out for that may cause crooked teeth as early as infanthood. The earlier we spot an issue the better chance of correcting it.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Tongue ties – The tongue should sit at top of the palate and there should be no frenulum visible. To check for a tongue tie have your child open his mouth and try to touch the tip of the tongue to just behind the upper teeth. If he can’t touch it, he may have a tongue tie. However, being able to touch doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no tongue tie, but it’s a good place to start.
- Thin, high palate – Kids should have a flat U-shaped palate (not V-shaped or high). Check by tipping their head back and looking at the palate. Chewing hard fibrous vegetables and meat on the bone can help build a better palate shape.
- Mouth breathing – The child should be able to breathe through their nose comfortably. If your child breathes through their mouth, their jaw growth may be stunted. Just getting them to breathe through the nose can help reform the jaw. Mouth breathing is also not ideal because the nasal passages prepare air for the lungs by moistening and warming the air. Nitric oxide is synthesized in the nasal passages which helps distribute oxygen. Nitric oxide also plays a role in platelet function, immunity, the nervous system, homeostasis, and the regulation of mitochondrial function. What to try: Have the child place the tongue at the roof of the mouth with lips closed. This opens airways, helps form the arch properly, and activates the neuromuscular pathways that train the airway to stay open during sleep. It’s important too to consult with a doctor if you have any concerns.
- Snoring and teeth clenching/grinding – Grinding teeth is a signal from the brain that the airway is closing. No child should snore. It’s a sign that their airway is not clear. If your child grinds his teeth or snores, try using a saline spray before bed.
- Throat check – You want to be able to see all the way back to the back of the throat when your child opens his mouth. If the tongue is in the way or tonsils are inflamed, that’s a sign that the airway is impeded.
Natural Alternatives to Braces (What I Do)
As Dr. Lin mentions, there is hope in avoiding (and even reversing) crooked teeth and other dental issues. Here’s what Dr. Lin and the research I’ve done suggests to reduce the chance of needing braces:
I realize that no one can go back in time, and even if we could there are many reasons that moms may have not been able to breastfeed. But if it’s at all possible, the American Dental Association says breastfeeding is a great first step toward healthy jaw and teeth. The act of removing milk from the breast helps form the arch of the palate. Breastfeeding supports proper tongue posture as well. In fact, breastfeeding trouble is one of the most common ways of discovering a tongue posture issue (tongue tie). Breastmilk also contains live enzymes and probiotics that help seal the digestive tract and build the immune system.
Eat a Traditional Diet
Consume plenty of fat-soluble vitamins along with healthy fat! This means eating plenty of fermented foods, pastured organ meats, pastured butter, coconut oil, avocados, and fish.
Feed Textured Foods
When babies reach about six months old and show signs of readiness for solid foods, choose foods that are nutrient dense and have texture. The act of chewing and moving food around in the mouth helps develop the jaw. Meat, liver, and egg yolks are ideal first foods for babies. Rice and oatmeal are best to wait on (or rethink all together).
Keep an Eye on Mouth Proportions
As Dr. Lin mentions in the podcast, the earlier we (as parents) notice signs of malfunctioning or malformed jaw, the easier it is to correct. Paying attention to how a child breathes at night or their usual facial posture can give us important clues. I would also get help from an ear, nose, throat (ENT) doctor, chiropractor, osteopath, holistic dentist, or craniosacral therapist if needed.
Our family is using Vivos to optimize our kids’ palates while they sleep. As an alternative to braces, this device is only worn at night and helps the maxilla expand naturally. We’ve noticed a reduction in mouth breathing and an increase in sleep, and their jaws seem to be expanding as their adult teeth come in. We’re hopeful we will avoid braces!
Can Teens and Adults Reverse Crooked Teeth?
Conventional wisdom says that the upper palate of the mouth fuses in adulthood and can’t be easily changed. According to Dr. Lin, this is untrue (great news!). Dr. Lin says that there are actually stem cells in the palate, so it can expand. For adults and teens it may take longer to see changes (6 months to 2 years) but the recommendations above can help adults and teens gain straighter teeth, too, not to mention better health overall.
Natural Alternatives to Braces: Bottom Line
We don’t have to wait until our kids are 10 or 12 years old before finding the problem and correcting it. Diet and paying attention to the signs can go a long way to improving dental health and stopping problems before they start. And that’s something to smile about!
Did you have braces as a kid? What was your experience?
- American Dental Association. (n.d.). Breastfeeding: 6 things nursing moms should know about dental health. Retrieved from https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/breastfeeding
- Gondivkar, S., Gadbail, A., Gondivkar, R., Sarode, S., Sarode, G., Patil, S., & Awan, K. (2018, October 04). Nutrition and oral health. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0011502918301287?via=ihub
- Ikävalko, T., Närhi, M., Eloranta, A., Lintu, N., Myllykangas, R., Vierola, A., . . . Pahkala, R. (2018, May 25). Predictors of sleep disordered breathing in children: The PANIC study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29016983
- Lin, S. (2018, September 21). Dental exam for children that you can easily perform from home. Retrieved from https://www.drstevenlin.com/dental-exam-children/
- Lin, S. (2019). Dental diet: The surprising link between your teeth, real food, and life-changing natural health. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
- Najeeb, S., Zafar, M. S., Khurshid, Z., Zohaib, S., & Almas, K. (2016, August 30). The Role of nutrition in periodontal health: an update. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037517/
- Varela-López, A., Giampieri, F., Bullón, P., Battino, M., & Quiles, J. L. (2016, September 07). A systematic review on the implication of minerals in the onset, severity and treatment of periodontal disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27617985