The Value of Air

Legend has it that the famous Greek philosopher and thinker, Socrates was once asked by his student, Plato how he could personally acquire the knowledge Socrates had obtained.  Socrates, the smartest man on earth in his day, invited Plato to walk with him along the beach.  They walked through the soft sand and then began to walk out into the calm waters.  As they walked into the sea the water first came to their knees, then their waists, followed by their chests and eventually to their shoulders. When they had gone into the water up to their necks, Socrates took Plato and forced him under the water holding him securely beneath the waves.  Plato, I’m sure, with pure amazement at first wondering what Socrates was trying to teach him was eventually overtaken by fear and terror as he unsuccessfully fought to get his head above water while Socrates firmly held him under.  Eventually Plato blacked out as the fight had gone out of him.  Socrates carried and dragged the unconscious Plato to shore and revived him.  On again regaining consciousness, Plato in anger lashed out and accused Socrates of trying to kill him.  Socrates assured Plato that if he had wanted to kill him he would not have brought him back to shore and revived him.  Then came the lesson:

Socrates asked, “When I was holding you under the water, how badly did you want a breath of air?”

Plato answered, “At that moment, I wanted air more than anything else in life.  I gave my all until I was totally spent trying to get it!”

Socrates then answered Plato’s question about the quest for knowledge, “When you want knowledge as much as you wanted air, then you shall have it.”

While this story is about passion for learning and the desire to acquire knowledge, there is one indisputable fact: Without air, you die!

We typically don’t concentrate, focus, or expend all our energy to get air as Plato did in this story because our body does that for us.  However, if there are blockages or other anomalies that prevent us from getting an adequate oxygen supply from the air around us, our bodies will adapt.  This adaptation can even change the path of our development.  While supporting life through adequate air intake, these adaptive developmental changes can cause other problems for the individual particularly with alignment in the head and neck.

The Journal of the American Dental Association published a study in January 2016 with the conclusion that 34% of children in the United States under the age of 12 suffer from signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder.  It has been well established that 34% of the adult population in the United States suffer from signs and symptoms of TMD but this new knowledge about children causes one to ask the question: Why?

The answer is AIR or the ability to breathe in sufficient amounts of it.   TMD is a misalignment of the jaws.  How does breathing in air affect the alignment of the jaws?

Sit up straight and close your mouth, breathe only through your nose. Where is your tongue when you are breathing only through your nose?  It should be in your palate with the tip of the tongue in the “N” position. Proper development of the upper jaw requires the tongue to rest in the palate when one breathes through their nose.  Now open your mouth and breathe only through your mouth.  Where is your tongue? It is in the floor of your mouth, not the proper position for aligned jaw development. However, breathing is essential, and one will do it no matter where the tongue is placed!  The fact is that improper tongue placement will cause the jaws to form improperly and cause a misalignment of the jaws leading to TMD symptoms.

Let’s consider the effects of a blockage of the airway caused by enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids.  Can this cause a misalignment of the jaws?  The answer is yes. How?  If the airway is restricted at the tonsils/adenoid area the person will have to breathe through their mouth and bring their lower jaw forward to open the airway to get adequate air flow to the lungs.  If you are trained in CPR you already know that the first step to opening the airway is to move the lower jaw forward.  People with airway blockages from enlarged tonsils and adenoids adapt to get air by moving the lower jaw forward and keeping the tongue in the floor of the mouth so air can pass over it as they breathe through their mouth.  Because the tongue is in the floor of the mouth their palate does not form properly.  The muscles of the cheeks apply pressure to the sides of the upper teeth and upper jaw pressing inwards.  The counter pressure from the tongue that is supposed to be in the palate is now absent.  The pressure from the tongue and cheeks should be balanced or the upper jaw will be deformed and will be too narrow. When a person is a mouth breather the lack of airflow through the nose and sinuses leads to disuse of the nostrils which then become small and placid–think Napoleon Dynamite. Young children frequently have enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids which if not corrected can lead to a permanently deformed upper jaw that is not properly aligned with the lower jaw.

Another reason for improper jaw development is when the tongue is stuck on the floor of the mouth called tongue tied. When the tongue is not resting in the palate but is stuck in the floor of the mouth the same deformed narrow upper jaw will develop.  The person may be able to breathe through their nose but the tongue is in the wrong position from being tied by a frenum or muscle attachment to the floor of the mouth.  It is estimated that as many as 10.7% of babies born in the US are tongue tied at birth.  It used to be common practice for the attending pediatrician or even the midwife to cut the frenum attachments of the tongue so the baby could nurse properly.  Today this is not done routinely as parental permission is required and frequently not given as the mother does not want her child to be “cut.”  This preventive wisdom of the ages, cutting the tongue tie at birth so that the baby could nurse and survive, has gone into disuse because of lack of parental understanding and parental consent.  Today, babies who are tongue tied and can’t nurse are given bottles and the improper development of their upper jaw is assured.  TMD suffering will probably be part of their lives because of the jaw size discrepancy with a deformed narrow upper jaw misaligned with a wider lower jaw.

A third cause of improper jaw development is the habit of sucking on thumbs or fingers.  When a thumb or finger is being sucked on, it is placed in the roof of the mouth to allow suction from the lips and tongue.  If the sucking is too frequent, the upper jaw will again be deformed and too narrow.  Sucking on thumbs and fingers puts a forward pressure on the upper jaw and a backwards pressure on the lower jaw.  While these habits are common in young children, if they continue beyond 3 or 4 years of the child’s development they can cause permanent deformity of the mouth and jaw misalignment.

The three major causes of improper jaw development in young children are:  inadequate airway caused by enlarged tonsils and/or adenoids, tongue tied and sucking on thumbs or fingers.  The first two of inadequate airway and tongue tied result in a deformed narrow upper jaw that does not fit properly with the lower jaw. The third cause of sucking on thumbs or fingers can cause improper development of both the upper and lower jaws.

Can these developmental patterns be interrupted or even corrected?  The answer is yes and if corrected early, by the 5th year of life, will have no lasting effects on the developing child.  Unfortunately, it has been taught for centuries that the child will grow out of these problems.  The truth is, left untreated the child will continue to take in air and breathe, these problems will persist and the child will grow and become one of the 34% of adults who suffer signs and symptoms of TMD.  For many, inadequate airway and lack of sufficient oxygen is not just a misalignment problem.  Not getting enough oxygen can become debilitating.  Some of the problems caused by lack of sufficient oxygen are:

TMD (Temporomandibular Disorder from misaligned jaw development)

OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea)

Lack of Alertness

Inability to Focus

Lack of energy


If your child or someone that you know is suffering from any of these symptoms, please give us a call today and see how we might be able to help.

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