Early Facial Development

We have all noticed the head of the newborn, which appears to be all forehead relative to the rest of the face. It is as if nature has provided the space for the brain to be fully functional to control this new person. Yet at this time all this individual needs to do to function is to breathe and suckle and since the size of the infant is very small even the respiratory system doesn’t have to be very large to supply the necessary oxygen for function.

However, as the individual grows more oxygen is necessary for its health and then we begin to see the development of the nasal cavities and the sinuses which are intimately related to the upper jaw, the maxilla; in fact the sinuses are just above and lateral to what will eventually be the adult molar area. It is very important that at this time the soft tissues of the area, especially the tongue, are functioning properly. If, for example, the tongue is not positioned near the palate but much lower it will encourage the child to begin mouth breathing and the nasal passages and sinuses will not be stimulated to develop, which could cause a narrow upper jaw and thus an improper bite.

In addition, it is very important to have the airway of the child evaluated to ensure proper function. If the adenoids and tonsils are very large, or if the child has an abnormally large soft palate these could interfere with the normal flow of air through the nasal area and result in mouth breathing. Recent evidence has shown that enlarged soft tissues in the upper airway or pharynx can contribute to snoring, sleep apnea, and, hyperactivity.

It is important to understand the concept that the infant’s skull is comprised of many bones separated by sutures that are malleable and therefore are influenced by any extrinsic forces that may be applied chronically such as poor tongue posture or thumb sucking. We have all seen children with protruding upper front teeth due to thumb habits, tongue thrusts, and poor lip seal during swallowing. These forces can cause some subtle yet significant changes in the shape of the jaws and therefore creating an improper bite or malocclusion.

In our practice it is important to examine children around the age of three to evaluate their oral development. At that time any abnormalities can be recognized and resolved so that the teeth and jaws can evolve in a more acceptable relationship. We would welcome the opportunity to evaluate your child and monitor his or her oral health. Please contact us for an appointment.