While attending one of our son’s high school sporting events recently, I was struck by how many of the teens had narrow facial features. From the side, it was clear that many had recessed jaws with pushed-back mandibles. I was also reminded of attending a football game last year, seeing something similar with many of the cheerleaders’ faces. Not all, but many more teens’ faces these days are more narrow than they used to be in the 1980s.
This prompted me to go back to my high school yearbook from the mid-80s. Scanning various profiles, it was clear that facial shapes were very different back then, being more rounder, with stronger facial features.
For those of you who are into classic Hollywood movies, notice that the most popular stars such as Clark Gable, William Holden, Bette Davis, or Marilyn Monroe had strong jaw lines. This is particularly noticeable for the actresses.
An article in the New York Times a while back described a study suggesting that the modern American’s preference for facial beauty and attractiveness has changed over the years. Younger people now prefer softer, or more narrow faces. Notice Adam Driver’s face in the picture above. Very narrow jaws, and from the side, the jaws are sloping back.
Why is your face melting? Here are 7 possible reasons
1. Genes. You get your facial anatomy from your parents. More often than not, your mouth may mirror your parent with the smaller mouth. The good news is that your genes don’t determine exactly what you’re going to get. Epigenetics has shown that your environment, habits, and how you use your mouth can significantly alter facial growth patterns.
2. Soft diet. There are a number of studies showing that eating a softer diet increases your risk of malocclusion, or crooked teeth. Your jaws need constant stimulation with the right forces for optimal growth. Not using your jaws properly, or not using them enough can suppress optimal growth patterns. I had a fascinating interview with Dr. Robert Corrucini, an anthropologist who published on this subject.
3. Bottle-feeding. The swallowing mechanism and forces used with a bottle nipple is very different from suckling from a mother’s breast. Dr. Brian Palmer has a great website describing this process and various negative consequences. (Click here for a recording of an interview I did with him on “The Evolution of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”) There are also lots of studies showing significantly increased risks of malocclusion in bottle-fed infants. Here’s one such article on bottle feeding and OSA, and another study showing more crooked teeth in babies that were bottle fed. The smaller your mouth, the more crooked teeth you’ll have and the smaller your airway.
4. Pacifiers. This issue is very similar to sucking from a bottle nipple. Here’s one study showing more crooked teeth in children that use pacifiers.
5. Thumb sucking. Here’s a study showing higher rates of malocclusion for thumb suckers.
6. Prematurity. Not having enough time to grow your face fully before you’re born can also prevent optimal facial growth. Here’s a study showing that pre-term babies had 3-5 times higher risk of having sleep disordered breathing problems by the time they were 8-11 years of age.
7. Nasal congestion. This is a big one. Numerous studies have shown that chronic nasal congestion can prevent facial growth. The classic study that’s quoted is a monkey study showing that total occlusion at birth resulted in much smaller facial structures. In our society’s children we see “adenoid” faces, with head-forward, open-mouth posture, and recessed chins with underdeveloped cheekbones. As these children grow up, they can develop the “long-face” syndrome.
I often joke during my lectures that if our brains are getting bigger, and as our faces get smaller and smaller, what will our faces look like in 20,000 years? Click here to find out.
One observation that I see all the time in the operating room is that very obese patients almost always have very small mouths. Small mouths lead to small airways, and small airways predispose to weight gain. Weigh gain narrows the throat, leading to obstructed breathing, which leads to poor sleep, which results in weight gain.
What can you do to avoid this?
- Introduce harder foods when younger
- Avoid bottle feeding, pacifiers, and thumb-sucking
- Treat nasal congestion aggressively
- Avoid or treat allergies
- Try to be as healthy as possible during pregnancy
- Consider orthodontics for your child very early, even as young as 4 to 5
- Check for tongue tie and treat if significant
- Consider taking out large tonsils or adenoids.
Do you or your child have “adenoid facies” or “long-face syndrome”?
How is it affecting your quality of life? Please write your responses in the box below.