The environment can have adverse effects on craniofacial growth and development, resulting in airway dysfunction – how we breathe during the day and how we breathe at night. To illustrate this point, Dr. Mark A. Cruz explained the changes in infant feeding that have occurred in most Western societies. He included the information in a presentation about ontogeny and craniofacial development at the Airway Focused Dentistry Mini-Residency he co-developed.
Breast and bottle feeding have different effects on facial development. Breastfeeding strengthens the muscles and actually grows the nasal maxillary complex forward, expanding the palate (ceiling of the mouth). This allows for the development of the proper neuro connections and the proper transition from a visceral swallow to a mature swallow. Some adults never develop the mature swallow.
Bottle feeding can separate the epiglottis and soft palate connection and elevate the soft palate. It also can drive the tongue back and alter its action. This can eventually lead to airway problems, Dr. Cruz explained.
The combination of having the flexion of the cranial base, the descent of the larynx, and the spine coming forward causes the constriction of the airway. Therefore, environmental factors (such as bottle feeding) can lead to airway dysfunction. This is significant in dentistry as well as orthodontics because open bites are demonstrated in children with sucking habits, which are strongly associated with malocclusions.
During the period of transition of oral tidal volume breathing, there is a vulnerability. This is interesting because it coincides with the peak incidents of SIDS in a 3 to 5-month period of time for infants, Cruz said. With the descent of the epiglottis, a common area is created where food and air can mix. The descent allows us to have the variety of sounds to create language.
Dr. Cruz is committed to studying the cause of airway problems that can lead to sleep disordered breathing. He believes understanding environmental factors that affect the airway can help doctors of various disciplines better able to diagnose and treat airway problems. Dr. Cruz is happy to consult with patients in his Dana Point office who are concerned about airway problems.