Monday, May 4, 2009

The importance of Jaw development in reducing Ear infections

If your child suffers from ear infections, here's one practitioner you normally wouldn't think of that could really help: your dentist!

Breastfeeding, Bottles and Pacifiers: The Importance of Jaw Development on Reducing Ear Infections
by Brenda Barnetson, C.M.T.

In my eleven years of teaching 3-6 year old children in a Waldorf Kindergarten, ear “infections” were by far the most common cause of illness, antibiotic medication, and absence. “…acute otitis media is the most common disease for which pediatricians prescribe antibiotics.” (Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection, 2001) This inflammation of the inner ear is commonly thought to result from bacterial or viral infections, but studies show that this is usually not so! In a report published in the April 1996 issue of Clinical Otolaryngology, “Global studies show that up to 75% of ears that seem infected are not. As few as 25% of seemingly infected ears actually have disease-causing bacteria or viruses in them.”

How have we gotten to such a high rate of ear inflammations in our infants and children? Multiple causes may include diet, vaccinations, suppressing every fever, etc., but two current practices in child-rearing stand out: Bottle Feeding and Pacifiers! Numerous reports in scientific journals point to the benefits of breastfeeding in helping the jaw and airway to develop properly. The Handbook of Facial Orthopedics, 1982, states: “During breast suckling, the undulating rhythmic elevation and lowering of the jaw stimulates lower jaw growth, during the most rapid period of jaw growth.”

And what do bottle-feeding and pacifier use do? The opposite. Both put exactly the wrong backward forces on the jaws during this main formative period of jaw development! A 1991 article in The Journal of the Canadian Dental Association describes the strong association between exclusive bottle-feeding and malocclusion. The strong sucking forces on a bottle or pacifier constrict the palatal bone that holds the teeth. The restricted, small upper jaw then prevents the lower jaw from growing and moving forward.

Pediatricians could take note of what veterinarians have long known: anatomy plays a huge role in rates of ear infection. Different breeds of dogs have differing rates of ear infections. We humans vary greatly in jaw and ear anatomy—though we’re not as visibly different as a basset hound and a boxer!

Jaws form the gateway to the airway, and jaws and airways are getting smaller. Most people have jaws averaging 1/4 inch too small to fit the wisdom teeth. It’s thought that diet, infant feeding practices and common orthodontic extraction techniques are to blame. And there is a direct relationship between small upper airway size and asthma, respiratory disorders, obstructive sleep disorders, hypertension and heart disease. Breast-feeding, or suckling, helps both upper and lower jaws to develop and grow in the way nature intended.

Functional Jaw Orthopedics (FJO), a new and progressive form of orthodontics, involves, according to David C. Page, DDS in Your Jaws, Your Life, “…changing the relationships of teeth, bone, muscles and tissues of the upper and lower jaws, jaw joints and skull…. The FJO approach treats teeth and jaws starting at birth—to manage growth, development and deformation.”

Dr. Bruce Johnson, DDS, leads an interdisciplinary Dental Cranial Orthopedic Study Group in the Los Angeles area (of which the author of this article is a member). He states, “Dentists that practice Functional Jaw Orthopedics have long known about the relationship between jaw function and ear problems. Otitis media, the problem seen most frequently in young children, is much like a juvenile TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problem. Relieving children of this problem is one of the simplest tasks we do. Despite the simplicity of treatment, and the rapid response to treatment (usually overnight), the medical community continues to be unaware of, or refuses to acknowledge, the dentist’s role in treating it.”

A great deal of research shows the broad potential health applications of FJO. In the Spring 1998 Journal of Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, a case report was published titled Minimizing otitis media by manipulating the primary dental occlusion. Papers have been published showing FJO maxillary expansion’s effect on chronic bedwetting, and research shows that palatal expansion helps approximately 80 percent of mouth breathers to breathe through their nose. Research published in pulmonary medical journals shows that FJO oral devices can treat sleep apnea and reduce the need for throat surgeries and positive airway pressure devices.

CranioSacral Therapy, a light-touch manual therapy developed by osteopathic physician Dr. John Upledger, is also successfully used in treating otitis media. It helps remove restrictions and tension in the membranes and fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. The CranioSacral Therapy practitioner uses gentle manipulation of the bones of the skull, including jaws and teeth, to relieve pressure, correct alignment, and improve eustachian tube function. This treatment often helps the tubes to assume a position from which they can drain on their own.

CranioSacral Therapy practitioners, working together with FJO dentists, orthodontists, chiropractors, osteopathic and medical doctors, can, we believe, evaluate and correct airway and jaw development problems before they become lifetime burdens.

Brenda Barnetson, C.M.T., is a CranioSacral Therapy practitioner in the Los Angeles, CA area. She can be contacted at Bruce Johnson, DDS, can be contacted at To obtain a copy of “Your Jaws, Your Life,” visit Dr. Page’s website at

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