Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic
Sandra Kahn and Paul R. Ehrlich
Stanford University Press
Jaws is not about an epidemic of shark attacks but about the epidemic of narrow jaws and everything that goes with it: insufficient room for the wisdom teeth, crowded teeth, weak chins, unattractive appearance, mouth breathing and poor posture. All this will be familiar to members of the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Kahn is a dentist who specializes in “forwarddontics.” Her graduate work focused on physical anthropology and human craniofacial growth and development. In her practice she uses palate widening and other modalities to correct dental deformities.
You may recognize the name of co-author Paul Ehrlich as the author of The Population Bomb, published in 1968, the book that convinced lots of smart and innovative college kids that they could save the planet by not having any children.
Kahn is right on in pointing out the epidemic and the unfortunate consequences of not having a wide enough jaw. And I am sure she is an innovative and effective orthodontist. She correctly notes that the epidemic of narrow jaws comes with the change from traditional food to the industrial diet. But she does the public a huge disservice in claiming that the reason this change was detrimental is because modern foods are soft while traditional foods are hard and gritty. The action of chewing on hard foods, she claims, is what gives us a wide jaw, prevents dental crowding and saves us from mouth breathing.
Regarding Dr. Price, Kahn asserts that, “He was wrong, however in the cause of those differences [in facial structure], which he assigned to the nutritional composition of the different diets. He noted that the shape of indigenous people’s faces changed in as little as one generation with a shift to Western diets, but missed that the central dietary issue related to jaw structure is not which nutrients it contains, but how much chewing it required.”
Nowhere in the book does Kahn give any proof of this preposterous statement, or even much practical advice on how to implement this diet of hard, gritty food for small children. It’s better to give a child a slice of pear (this is what she calls a hard food!) than one of those squeezable fruit pouches which do not require any chewing, she says. Of course that is true, but neither of these foods will supply the nutrients a growing child needs to have strong bones and straight teeth.
The people Dr. Price studied had no cavities. Was this because they ate hard foods? They had perfect eyesight and hearing. They did not suffer from chronic or even infectious disease. The women had wide hips and gave birth to children with ease. Will all these gifts be ours if we just add sand to the polenta?
Facial structure is usually evident the moment a child is born, before he has eaten any food at all. Baby’s first foods in all cultures are soft—starting with breast milk, then chewed liver, fermented porridges and eggs. At what age do hard foods suddenly guarantee a wide face and straight teeth?
We know that children suffering from malnutrition have stunted growth. Can we help malnourished children grow taller by giving them stretching exercises? Any college professor or physician proposing this solution would be a laughingstock. But Kahn and Ehrlich get away with such crazy thinking.
And there are consequences. Jaws has been a bestseller and thanks to Kahn and Ehrlich, thousands of parents will be denied an introduction to the key role of good nutrition, starting before pregnancy, to ensure that their offspring grow up healthy and well formed. Instead they’ll be giving them “hard” foods like corn nuts and peppermint candy to exercise their jaw muscles in the vain hope that therein lies the magic bullet that will save them the costs of orthodontics as their children grow.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2018.🖨️ Print post
Wow – pretty ridiculous! What they will get is TMJ!
Mihir Shah says
What the book really meant that the food thdat we ate traditionally was full of nutrients but one had to chew a lot to get those enough nutrients, This promoted good jaw growth, Both the nutrition & chewing is important for good jaw growth & development, however good nutrition earned the harder way by chewing a lot, is more beneficial for the body then the calorie abundance that today’s food is offering.
I hope you understand, Both the subjects are complimentary to each other, It should not be portrayed opposite
Jason Hewett says
Hi Sally. Thank you for your commentary on the book. It is interesting. And I am certain your comments are relevant and noteworthy. However, your argument gives abolutely no mention or even reference to so-called oral posture, mouth breathing, incorrect swallowing (reverse tongue thrust) or the decades of ground-breaking work by John and Mike Mew on which much of this work is based. John Mew recognised decades ago that a correct swallow and correct mouth posture was essential for the face, jaw and teeth to develop normally. His ground-breaking work wasn`t achievable unless his clients were able to change their swallow or practice and adopt correct mouth posture. In fact, his patient`s jaws and faces and consequently teeth only began to grow in the correct direction if that was so. He cites the frequent failure of standard orthodontics to create a stable change to dentition to failure of the orthodontic patients to adopt a correct mouth posture because most othodontists don`t believe in John Mew`s `Tropic Premise` But he is correct. His, his son`s and the increasing amount of work by others who follow in their footstepswork bare this out. Their is no doubt that chronic mouth breathing damages faces. Horizonal growth of the face is superceded by vertical growth. This is born out by the studies in monkeys who had their noses blocked by plugs, all of whom developed malocclusion of one sort or another depending on the compensatory mouth posture and habits they adopted so that they could breath.. .swallow etc. It was the same when chimps were prevented from allowing their tongue to rest on the roof of their mouth. In both these studies there was no change in diet and hence nutrition. They developed malaligned teeth, malocclusion.. as a result of a vertical and not horizontal growth of the jaws and face in response to a change in the forces on the jaws…. a tropic change. It is obvious too in the photos taken by Weston Price. And in any photos of children who have not adopted a western lifestyle. When their mouths are closed they have great dentition and wide faces; and if they have an open mouth posture, they invariable have malocclusion. The argument against this is that the children breath through their mouths in order to cope with a compromised airway invloving the nose. This is true for children with enlarged adenoids. However, once the adenoid problem is solved, if correct mouth and tongue posture is adopted the jaws, teeth and hence the whole face subequently develop normally. There are no placebo controlled studies to show this but John Mew proved it by using his method in one of many sets of twins, one of whom was treated by him and one with conventional orthodontics. There is can be no doubt for anyone who looks at the evidence.
Hunter-gatherer man wore out their molars by aged 40 on average and almost every skull prior to civilised man over the last 10.000 years had almost zero malocclusion and wide spacious jaws with enough room for the wisdom teeth and more. They had worn out their teeth by aged 40. John Mew theorizes that we chew about 3% as much as our hunter gather ancestors. If correct, that is a great deal less muscle activity. Indeed John Mew`s `tropic premise` has been known to be true for the limbs and body and in some cases the face as born out by the fact that 1) genetic aglossia prevents normal development of the maxilla because it hasn`t the tongue to develop around 2) People with muscular dystophy and motor neurone disease eventually get distorted bones and faces because of the lack of normal and the abnormal forces exerted on them and 3) John and Mike Mews clinical work which is based and dependent only on Johns`s `tropic premise` are so very successful only as a consequence of that fact. They wouldn`t work otherwise. Moreover, they and their followers are more successful than any orthodontic type work with regard to having straight teeth and a normal and much more attractive face (conventional orthodontics NEVER addresses the jaw bones and face.. only the teeth) and is being adopted by any orthodentist who has the strength and wisdom to see the truth.They never go back because the results are astounding and sustainable. Nutrition in pregnancy and subsequently is equally important; but aren`t over 99% babies born with normal looking faces and jaws? At least 30% of people end up with malocclusion. Isn`t it only after the first 2-3 years minimum and following that we start to notice that the teeth are atypical or abnormal and the jaws don`t look right? This is a fact especially if there is chronic use of a pacifier, chronic thumb sucking …. no-one desputes that….or chronic mouth breathing. The latter can`t be disputed if caught early enough too because once mouth posture and swallowing is corrected, malocclusion reverses. The extent children are affected does depend seem to depend on their genetic predisposition too. However, the tropic premise, which is as incontrovertible as it is for the limbs and body as it is for the face undoubtably means that epigenetics as usual is paramount if the genetics are normal. The jaws seem normal in most babies before they breath air or suckle from the breast or eat any food. In fact, invariably they are normal until all the milk teeth are in at about 3 years. Isn`t that correct? The face too. If they look normal , there must have been adequate enough nutrition for them to deveop so. Are we not holding on to antequated ideas without any proof again here? There is no doubt nutrition is the top trump for dental caries and peridontitis. To me, the evidence seems heavily stacked in the favour of the tropic premise for malocclusion and normal jaw and face development. Indeed, why are us westerners getting taller than ever but our faces thinner than before? Both must be epigenetic. The former must be nutritional because we certainly are less active than previous generations and the latter tropic because of the cultural changes in breast feeding, oral posture and breathing and swallowing habits.
jason hewett says
Please would you challenge me on this!!
Rayna Hawley says
I haven’t read this book, but this is nonsense. I have a special needs son who only has blended food by bottle or spoon. Because I blend up good nutritious food, he has a lovely wide smile, despite never chewing a morsel in his life.