The Importance of Chewing

Barbara Tritz
· June 25, 2023 ·

5 minutes

Yesterday’s blog post was all about bottles, the infant suck-swallow motion, the mature swallow. Today’s article is on chewing and how to grow healthy babies into healthy adults. It all comes down to proper facial development and growing the airway to get all that good nourishing oxygen. So, let’s chew on this!

Chewing is something we take for granted and do it so automatically we never give it a second thought. Little did you know, chewing is critical for helping the jaws, bones and faces grow properly and to their full genetic potential. It all starts right from birth. (Hence my grave concerns about hard sippy cups spouts.)

Eat the Rainbow

Time to Chew

At around six months baby is starting to explore real food. There is a proper and natural progression.

Baby’s foods will go from squishy to texture to chewing harder foods. This progression is just like learning to crawl, walk and then run. We must do it in the proper order for healthy muscle development.

HOWEVER! Baby does not NEED “baby food” – that pureed mushy stuff that comes in pouches or glass jars. Babies are able to “chew” or squish food between their gums just like we are able to squish food between our fingers. Teeth give us the ability to bite, and feeding themself is a great time to work on fine motor skills. Working towards a pincher grip, she can pick up small, softer, steamed kinds of foods and feed herself. Real food that requires a little chewing and tongue activation. Chewing stimulates the salivary digestive enzymes that baby needs for proper digestion and gut health. Not to mention the importance of colorful foods that provide all the important vitamins and minerals their bodies need for growth and development.

Eating the rainbow means eating different colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal but please, not from pouches.

smushy, soft food
Baby Food is a myth, time for real food for baby

“Baby Food” is an industry that developed in the 1920s and 30s, at a time when the timing for solids introduction was swinging earlier and earlier, to about three to four months of age. Unfortunately, at that age, babies still have the infant suckle-swallow reflex we talked about in yesterday’s post. “Chewing” isn’t a stage in that part of early development. They do not have the more mature swallow needed to properly eat and chew foods so the industry of mushy baby food was “born”. We know better now! Wait until about six months old for gut development. Also, baby needs to be able to sit well- unaided – to reduce choking risk.

At around six months old let’s feed baby real food, healthier food, and food they need to chew. Babies and toddlers need to chew to grow and strengthen their jaw muscles. Chewing promotes proper bone development by laying down the bone matrix allowing for future growth. It creates that nice big arch with room for all 32 straight, beautiful healthy teeth, and a large airway (preventing sleep-disordered breathing).

Chewing is Magical

With all the soft foods – as much as we love mac and cheese, dino nuggets, and Happy meals – our children, teens and adults are also affected by the lack of chewing. Chewing helps with stress reduction, improving attention and better cognition. Throw some carrots on the plate!

The more we chew, the more stem cells are released, which supports optimal growth of the facial bones, chewing muscles, a wider palate and jaw, and larger airways. Chewing is not only key for breathing and straight teeth, but each time you chew, you pump blood and nutrients into the brain and flush toxins out. Chewing also grows the nose and helps prevent deviated septums, which helps prevent nasal breathing problems.

The Beauty of Chewing

One more chewing thought- we must chew on both sides of the face, using the muscles equally. Favoring one side over the other has severe consequences. If you don’t use it, you lose it- so muscles on the other side start to lose tone and strength. Think facial asymmetry and we don’t want that! Your temporomandibular joint can also be affected and cause jaw joint pain. With this one-sided pressure, your neck, and spine can also be affected. When the pressure from a misaligned bite is not correct, (IE. the occlusion is only from one side due to tooth loss, open bite, or habits) it then affects a point in the neck that influences the alignment of the rest of the spine, influencing every thing below the shoulders. The muscles compensate. Everything downstream is affected. Keeping your spine healthy is critical to your health and wellness.

Replacing missing teeth and using both sides of your mouth to chew is key to total body health and long-term wellness. Small bites, divide the food and chew equally until it is soupy, then swallow.(Ask your favorite dental hygienist how to prevent problems before things become a crisis. AND chew!!)

Bottom line: Chewing grows a healthy face and is key to total body wellness.

Chewing Tools

Babies need oral stimulation instead of a pacifier. These chew tools are perfect for that need.

Baby and Toddler chewing tools: ARK Therapeutic – Makers of Innovative Special Needs Products & Sensory Therapy Tools

ARK has a whole series of chew toys for babies and toddlers. Babies need to chew and explore the world with their mouths so having safe and effect “chew toys” helps them learn about the world through the mouth.

Myomunchee Myo Munchee – Myo Made Easy

The myomunchee is a great tool for gentle chewing for infants, children, and even adults. The Bebe munchee must be purchased by a healthcare professional from the company in Australia for you. Ask a myofunctional therapist to help you. Here in the States, you can purchase the mini munchee and adult sizes from Myo Made Easy.

Using the munchee gently cleans teeth, stimulates bone and jaw development, stimulates salivary digestive enzymes (especially great for dry mouth sufferers), enhances lip strength, encourages lip seal, and teaches nasal breathing. All my favorite things.

Mastic Gum

Mastic gum is resin from the Mastiha tree. This special tree is found only on the Greek island Chios, where mastic gum has been harvested for over 2500 years. The word “masticate” comes from mastic gum, which means to “gnash the teeth” and to chew.

Chewing this gum will work your jaw muscles and refine your jaw line (who doesn’t want that nice, chiseled jawline?) because it is 10xs harder that regular chewing gum.

Healthy Smiles Start with Healthy Food to Chew

I remember my infant daughters both reached down and grabbed food off my plate. They wanted real food. They both refused baby food. They knew better than I did. I thought baby food was better, that maybe they’d choke, or not eat enough or get enough nutrients. Mom guilt strikes again. Baby knows best. They want real food, colorful food and to learn from eating, practice picking food up and putting it in their mouth. They learn to eat until they are done. Then they stop. Everything is a learning and growing experience. Chewing is a critical component of proper growth and facial development. It’s really okay to let them chew real food so forget about mom guilt!

Warmly,

Barbara Tritz RDH

Queen of a Rainbow of Real Food

and special guest author:

Alexandra Tritz LC

Editor in Chief and Lactation Consultant and Advocate for Baby Led Weaning

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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