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.