Blame Modern Diets, Not Genetics, for Your Crooked Teeth and Breathing Problems

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James Nestor

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James Nestor is a journalist who has written for Outside magazine, Men's Journal, Scientific American, Dwell magazine, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Atlantic, the San Francisco Chronicle magazine, and others. His new book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is available now: https://www.amazon.com/Breath-New-Science-Lost-Art/dp/0735213615

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You were talking about the changes in human diet and eating soft foods and how it affects the way the jaw develops and the size of the jaw and that there's a way to improve that, which I found fascinating. Yeah, and this was something when you set out to write a book about breathing, the last thing you think you're going to be doing is handing around a bunch of ancient skulls and looking at teeth. But that's where this journey led me. I had heard from some biological anthropologists that our faces have changed and that our mouths have gotten too small. And that was one of the reasons so many of us were breathing so poorly. And so I thought, well, this sounds interesting. These people are legit. I want to check it out. And if you take an ancient skull, anything older than 500 years old, 5,000 years old, 50,000 years old, you're going to see by and large about 99% chance these skulls are going to have perfectly straight teeth. They never had their wisdom teeth removed. They never had braces, any orthodonture, anything. They had straight teeth because they had these very wide and large mouths and these powerful jaws. If you start getting into the modern era of industrialized food, mouths start shrinking. So why do we have crooked teeth? Not from genetics. It's because our mouths have grown so small that the teeth have nowhere to go. So they grow crooked. And what else happens when you have a mouth that's too small for its teeth? You have a smaller airway. So this is one of the reasons why so many people have snoring, sleep apnea, and other respiratory problems. This sounded so bizarre because it's nothing I'd ever learned in school. But all anyone needs to do is look up some ancient skulls if you're online and check out their teeth and check out how they have these huge jaws, these big flat wide faces, powerful faces. And they all had this. And then you go into the wild 5,400 different mammals and check out and see how many have crooked teeth. The answer is zero. So some bulldogs do because they've been bred to have this flat face just like humans. But animals in the wild have straight teeth. And we did too. As a species, we have straight teeth. But because of industrialization, specifically because of food, our mouths have grown too small. I would never believe that. If someone told me that other than reading your book and kind of understanding where you're coming from, I would think this is nonsense. It's genetics. Just like why people have small hands or people have big feet or whatever. Well, it's become a heritable trait. So what's happened now is they've found the researchers who've done this, Robert Corcini worked on this stuff for 30 years. There's 250 scientific papers on it. They found within the first generation of switching to industrialized foods, about 50% of the population is going to have malocclusion, which means a crooked jaw, crooked teeth. After that, about 60 to 70% next generation. After that, about 80%. After that, look around. That's us now, about 90%. So if... I was going to bum you out a little more. So Dr. Kevin Boyd is now doing studies where he's looking at fetuses in the womb and is seeing their mouth size is too small and they have this backward slant to their faces just like I have, just like so many people in the population have. If you were to measure a skull and you were to draw one line from its ear to its nose and another line perpendicular to that, almost every single ancient skull would be above that line. Very powerful jaw. Now 90% of modern skulls are below it. So they are behind it. And this is happening now. It is becoming a heritable trait. So kids are messed up to begin with, which is why so many kids have sleep apnea and snore now, which is so injurious to their health. And this came about because they weren't chewing tougher food. They didn't need the muscles. And what can be done to sort of reverse that or mitigate that? In adulthood it's harder and for kids it's much easier because their muscles and their bones are much more malleable. But that's exactly what they found is once you introduce, we used to chew for about four hours a day. That's just how it was from the dawn of time to about 500 years ago. But as wheat started getting processed in the white flour, as rice became, we started taking the German, the brand away from rice. So it's just the polished seed as things began to get canned and bottled. If you think about even what's considered healthy food right now, smoothies, avocado, oatmeal, all of this stuff is soft, power bars. So in adulthood, you can make some changes. And that's what I tried to do in my own face as a experiment for kids. What they're finding is these problems need to be diagnosed very early and they need to be treated. And what they do is they widen the mouth to the way that they were supposed to be 500 years ago. So we're changing our bodies by force of will to the way that nature had made them before we messed them up. There was a doctor that you were talking about that developed some sort of a retainer that actually changed the volume of your jaw as an adult and changed the volume of your mouth. That's right. So I had crooked teeth growing up. I had braces. I had extractions. I had gear. And me and everyone I knew had the same thing. It was never if you were going to get it. It's just when are you going to get your braces? So the point of all those things was to straighten teeth, but they're not looking at airway health. So what happens just as a principle, you've got a mouth that's too small for its face, the teeth are growing and crooked. You extract teeth from that, get some head gear and go. You're creating, at least there's a significant argument by many people in the field that say you're making a small mouth smaller. And one leader in the field, Dr. Michael Gelb has said 50% of people who have orthodontics are going to have more breathing problems because of it. Orthodontics meaning braces as well? Braces are craning in. So it's a combination of braces and especially head gear. And some of that stuff is being phased out. Braces are still, you're forcing teeth into a smaller space to make them straight. So there's this, the very first orthodontics weren't craning teeth in to make them straight. They would expand the mouth because even back then, 120 years ago, they knew our mouths were growing too small. They knew that. So the first devices, I thought this was fascinating. They were using this for kids who had cleft palates and all of these other problems where they were having problems chewing and breathing. So they would expand their mouths with this device that went to the roof of your mouth and it had a little dowel screw and you slowly opened it up to expand the mouth. What does it feel like? It doesn't feel great. So this is where I think a lot of orthodontics is heading because it allows you to have straighter teeth but it also opens your airway. But how long do you keep it in your mouth like braces all day long? No, the one that I used was called a homeoblock and this guy had been using it for 30 years and I used it at night. So you put it on the pallet, upper pallet and you slowly, you have this little screw thing, this little handle that every couple of weeks you open it a little more, just slowly. There it is. Jamie's got a picture of it. All right. So if you feel that you used one of those? Yeah, I did. None as gnarly as that. This looks intense. But if you feel your head right now, you feel these sutures, right? These cracks in your head, you have one of those on your upper pallet. So that can open, okay? That's what it's made to do. It can open and you can widen your mouth in adulthood. And I showed this through CAT scans and by that you can open your airway and you can breathe better. And how long did you wear it for? I wore it for one year. One year to the week I took the other CAT scan. And you gained how much volume in your mouth? I gained about five pennies worth of bone in my face, which is crazy. Five pennies? So stack them up. Yeah. You got five pennies. Yeah. That's a lot of bone, man. So we've been told that we can't grow bone past 30, right? It's just entropy. We're only going to be losing. We can stop it from disappearing. We can do some things to help prevent that loss, but we can't build it. But we can. We can build it in the center of our face in the maxilla. So you can really change the structure of your face from doing...you can widen your face? You can add more bone. You can model more bone inside of your face while you're... Do you think you look better? Well, can't you tell? You're a good looking man. But I mean, do you think you look better? I will not say better. I won't use those. Maybe it just...no. Worse, worse. People be forewarned. Don't build bone in your face. No. And you'll notice after about six weeks of wearing this thing, people were like, dude, what happened? What are you doing? They could see a shift? Absolutely. And it's very apparent. You can see a bunch of case studies on this and you can see it for yourself. And the neat thing is it's not subjective. It's not, well, I think I look different. There's CAT scans and there's metrics to it. So and it also opened my airways. It allowed me to expand. I don't know how much is probably maybe 15%, 20% but it was mostly the toning of the airway. Why did you stop using it after a year? I'm still using it. You are. So for the book, for the research, I said, I'm going to do this for one year and I'm going to wear it every night. I'm really going to be dedicated even after having a few beers. It was like the last thing I want to do is put this thing in my mouth and go to sleep. But I did it because I was curious because I had heard these stories. I'd seen the case studies. I'd see the data, but I wanted to see what would happen in my own body. And I tell you on a subjective level, I breathe more easily now than I could ever remember breathing. I haven't had pneumonia, bronchitis, any of those problems. But there's a bunch of factors though too, right? There's the nose breathing, there's the breath work. So it's a combination of all these things. Yeah, but nose breathing wouldn't help you build more bone in your face. So a lot of that was due to this device not only spread open that suture in the upper palate, but also stimulated chewing stress. So on one side, there was this little bump. So every time you closed your mouth, you got some chewing stress, which would stimulate stem cells, which would go into those sutures and build more bone. The difference is when you clench your jaws right now, just like you're boxing, you're intense, you're clenching your jaws, that does not stimulate that good beneficial chewing stress. Okay? Because our bodies identify that as sympathetic stress, cortisol levels go up, right? That means growth isn't going to happen. But if you think about eating a big piece of steak or a carrot, you're not chewing on both sides of your molars. You're chewing on one side or the other. So when you stimulate the stress on one side or the other, next time you're chewing on something, think about that. That's why you salivate and you become more relaxed. And that's when that growth can happen. So chewing on one side or the other stimulates stem cells that don't get stimulated if you're just like biting down on a mouthpiece. Because of cortisol and osteoplast. Now how often do you have this thing in your mouth now? I took a break after a year to see what life was like on the other side of that. Isn't that nice? That's great. But I got curious. I talked to the guy who gave me this device, Dr. Ted Belfort, and he's used this thing for 30 years. And his case studies are pretty fascinating. And I talked to him. He's like, oh, we should do another CAT scan and see what happened. I didn't quite admit to him that I had stopped using it. So I felt a little guilty. And now for the past about month and a half, I've been back on the train to see what happened. So we're going to take another one just for kicks. I'm not going to write about the books already done. But I just I'm curious to see what will happen if you keep wearing this, if you can really keep improving. If you're the Swami Rama of orthodontics. If you could hold that bad boy in your mouth for a few years. I mean, I'd be really fascinated if you change your face. And all of a sudden you have like this big Clark Kent Superman type jaw. Can you let me shack up here for a couple years? I'm just going to focus on this all day. Just stay in the sauna too. See what you got to do.