Chew On This!

Barbara Tritz
· March 9, 2015 ·

8 minutes

Proper chewing and swallowing are vital! Of course you all know to chew your food thoroughly– it’s the first stage of digestion.  You’ve heard that a thousand times, so who knew there was so much to read and study on this one odd topic?!  What I have to say may just shake up your world a little bit…

Proper swallowing molds the teeth and jaw into the proper alignment.  Proper swallowing is tongue to the roof of the mouth and then move the food or liquid backward down your throat, and proper alignment  of teeth is when all your teeth form a perfect arch.  Now, how do we achieve this?


Real food- no more mush!

Mom, Dad, stop with the mushy, pureed baby food!  Stop the spooned feeding, too.  Why? Because, your precious bundle of joy can actually chew that chicken already.  Got a tooth? He can chew.  At about six months of age baby can start adding regular food in addition to breast milk
(yes, I’m very biased about that one too! more on that in a minute) to her diet.  Baby can pick up things and thus food to start exploring it, and eventually start feeding herself.  By nine months, she can totally eat what you are eating and enjoy the textures and variety of food you serve.  There’s a great book I recommend entitled Baby-Led Weaning by Gil Rapley and Tracey Murkett.  Worth your time.  Chewing is vital to develop proper bone structure as well as the added bonus of reducing the probability of them being picky eaters later on in life!  Chewing encourages tooth eruption!  Chewing hard food keeps the mouth healthy.  It stimulates the ligaments, and promotes proper occlusion.  A liquid diet does not develop proper bone structure.   Soft foods, and “fast” foods are contributing to this problem. Our children are not chewing enough!  Time to reassess our diets and feed our children good,  healthy, food.  Not prefab, soft, mushy yunk.

On that same issue, let’s chat about breastfeeding and bottle feeding. I’m proud to say I breastfeed my children until they were over two years old.  The more I read about how important that was to my children’s health, the happier I am with that decision.  Man-made products are just not as good as what nature has provided.
Breast feeding encourages proper swallowing- I.E, getting the tongue up on the roof of the mouth. Breastfed babies have the best chance at naturally having what we’re striving for!  Proper alignment leads to proper breathing, chewing, facial bone development, muscle development, lip seal, airway development, and good quality sleep.  It’s all related.  For those that want more information- read Brian Palmer DDS website.

Breastfeeding insures proper facial bone development

Dr. Palmer discusses how the bottle nipple gushing formula forward may cause a tongue thrust type action by baby to stop the flow of milk so he does not gag or drown.  The baby’s bones are very malleable and conform to whatever is placed in its way  The tongue is the ideal tool to achieve a nice, rounded arch in the palate– the roof of the mouth.  In bottle feeding or pacifier use, the tongue is encouraged and thus learns to stay on the floor of the mouth, while the lower jaw is thrust down and back.  With this tongue “down” rest posture, the results are mouth breathing, crowded teeth and sleep apnea.  So, if you want to avoid a large orthodontist bill (yes, please!), as well as other health issues, consider encouraging breastfeeding.
But, you say, baby can’t latch on and won’t feed that way.  Have you looked at the area under his tongue?  Is the baby tongue tied?  Often, lack of success with nursing is directly related to tongue ties.  If breast feeding hurts or the infant fails to thrive, please have the frenum (the tissue that attaches the tongue to the lower jaw) checked.  There is no reason not to have the frenum clipped if it is anchored to the lower jaw incorrectly- it’s in baby’s best interest.  If baby can’t move her tongue comfortably, it can lead her to mouth breathe in addition to interfering with breast feeding.  Read this website for more information on tongue ties and nursing.  This lady has a ton of great information on this!
Bottle feeding, pacifiers and earaches?  Yes!  There is a big connection.  When baby sucks on a bottle, especially when laying down, it creates a suction which causes fluid/formula to flow back into the baby’s eustation tubes.  If you must use a bottle, please at least hold the bottle for baby.  And, another big “no” in my book- the Podee hands free bottle.  Ouch! babies need to be held and feed carefully, not stuffed to sleep with a bottle.  Take a guess about how I feel about sippy cups! They too are not good for jaw development, creating lip seals and closed mouth breathing postures.  When the tongue rests on the floor of the mouth, it causes the jaw and roof of the mouth to collapse.  Remember, the roof of the mouth is the floor of the nasal sinus cavity.  Small mouth, small sinus cavity= sleep apnea.   Breathing is everything!  Really!

Good tools for baby feeding:
Instead, look into Babycup –  even your six month old can use this cup!  If you must use a sippy cup, look at OXO Tot Sippy Cups with the bonus training lid.  Throw away all your other sippy cups, pacifiers  and bottles for the sake of your child.  Please!


While chewing, does your child:
make smacking sounds
have an aversion to crunchy, or fibrous foods
squash food against his palate
leave food between his teeth and cheeks
eat too fast or too little
drool while eating
make a goosey head posture (If you dropped a plum line from your child’s ear does it pass through his shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle, especially when he swallows? or does he goose his head forward to swallow?)
If your child exhibits any of these or other symptoms, please know that it’s not right and take them to see a doctor and possibly a speech language therapist.

Open bite – note where his tongue is sitting!

Nail biting, digit sucking, and other  “non nutritive sucking” oral habits cause profound problems with dental development, causing both the jaw and teeth to become misaligned.  The thumb or fingers push the mandibular jaw backward.  Open bite, crooked teeth, misaligned teeth, jaw and muscle pain, cavities, gum disease, sleep apnea, and mouth breathing can all result.  As I write this list, it keeps growing.  If your child has this “bad habit” please seek out a myofunctional therapist and unlearn these habits for the sake of the child before the habit becomes entrenched and causes permanent damage.  Find out why your child is doing this and help them correct it!

Teens and Adults:

Oral piercing- bet you can guess how I feel about this.  From a health perspective it makes me cringe. From a chewing/swallowing  perspective it makes me cry.  You can not get a good lip seal with lip rings which can lead to mouth breathing, and when there’s a tongue stud(s) you cannot get your tongue to rest on the roof of your mouth.  When the tongue is not on the roof of the mouth, it creates a mouth breathing situation which leads to a whole host of other problems, sleep apnea being a big one!  See above!

Just say NO to fast food!

“Fast” Food like pasta, mac and cheese, french fries, burgers, and that new squeezy pouch food (OMG, really!) – the lack of chewing creates problems.  Not using your jaw muscles creates a lack of   tone in the cheek muscles.  Fast food makes for fast eating, and not chewing food thoroughly.  Not chewing food completely causes improper digestion, malocclusion, and muscle tone. You want the best for your child so please consider “real” food as vital to his health and development.  Everything in moderation!

Open mouth chewing- look around you, especially in a school cafeteria and you’ll see lots of children, teens and even adults chew food with their mouths open.  Why?  Lack of manners?  Maybe.  More likely, they just want to breathe.  Breathing trumps eating every time.  I looked up open mouth chewing and it seems to be the number one pet peeve of many people.  So, if your child is doing this, look at the cause.  Could it be allergies?  Nasal breathing is practically impossible with allergies.   Enlarged tonsils and adenoids make swallowing difficult, or again-  how ’bout that small narrow palate?   Your child should be able to chew and breathe at the same time.  Look for the cause and fix it!  Then, maybe, a class in manners…

Tongue Thrust
We can’t talk about chewing without discussing ‘tongue thrust”.  It’s also called  “reverse swallowing.”  The tongue moves forward and pushes against the front teeth during a swallow.  This is normal in infancy and should disappear by age seven or eight.  Tongue thrust may be the result of mouth breathing, digit sucking or the all time favorite pacifier.  They create a space and since nature abhors a vacuum, the tongue gladly fills it.  The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body and muscle can move bone. Thus, that open space stays, or after braces are removed- it returns.  The orthodontics failed because no one addressed the problem that caused the open bite in the first place- the tongue thrust.

Jaw pain– When your muscles or teeth are not aligned properly, pain, earaches and headaches can  result.  This can happen as much in children as in adults.  Seeing a functional orthodontist may help realign your teeth, open airway and help reduce your jaw pain.  Functional orthodontists look at teeth alignment a little differently.  I just learned about that branch of ortho this weekend!

Sham Chewing:
Chewing sends the body a message that food is coming which starts the digestive juices, enzymes and acids going.  In sham chewing no food arrives!  It can cause excessive stomach acid which can lead to bloating, as well as compromising the body’s ability to make sufficient digestive secretions when you really do eat food.  Be sure to eat something before you chew gum, then  alternate your gum so both sides of the mouth are exercised, and only chew for five to 10 minutes.  If you must chew gum, use those with xylitol.

How To Chew:

1. Eat slowly, chew more thoroughly, two times as long as you do now. Your food should be liquified and lose all texture! Bet you don’t do this!   It makes digestion easier and gets your body more nutrients.  This will create more saliva, and thoroughly reduces acid reflux.

2. Chew on both sides.

3. Chew with your mouth closed, lips together.  Mouth breathing may reduce chewing activity.

4. Wait to drink until you have swallowed.

5. Finish chewing before taking that next bite.

6. If you have a dry mouth, chew more.  (Check out my post on dry mouth for more information and product suggestions to help you feel better!)

We all want a pretty smile, strong teeth and a healthy body.  Proper chewing and tongue placement  as well as nasal breathing all contribute to this.  It starts with infants and continues throughout our lives.  Some food for thought! Chew on this for a while.  Next week we’ll talk about solutions to these problems.  I just took a fabulous course on swallowing, facial muscles, airway, and habit elimination.  Part II next time- The Magic of Myofunctional Therapy look for it soon.

Till next time,
Keep smiling,
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Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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