Resetting My Jaw

Quite the dramatic headline, no? This is going to be a long discussion of dental and orthodontic health, but I think the subject matter won’t be quite as dull as it sounds. Let me start with some background.

I’ve never had braces. My teeth aren’t perfect, but they’ve never caused me much problem either. I’ve never had a cavity. The only mouth troubles I have are sensitive teeth and receding gums, the bulk of which happened in my early 20s and haven’t worsened.

DentalReplicasBut I come from a long line of teeth grinders. You can hear my dad grinding in his sleep from down the hall. This is not an exaggeration. My sister grinds. But me? I’m a clencher. I lock my teeth down and create a vacuum in there, especially when under stress.

So, in line with my yoga and mindfulness studies, I set out to fix myself of this little problem. Yoga teaches a technique to help relax the mouth that involves creating a space between the teeth and lips, and then putting the tip of your tongue right behind the front top teeth. The mouth is a common place that we hold tension, especially when we think we’re relaxed.

And lo and behold! It worked. For a while. At some point during those years, I began chewing only on one side. I’m not sure why, but I did. I always attributed it to the sensitivity, but now I’m not so sure.

Then I had my darling daughter 3 1/2 years ago and I couldn’t maintain the mindfulness required to keep up my non-clenching. Amidst the slosh of hormones and lack of sleep, the clenching came back full throttle. My jaw was exhausted and I was beginning to show some signs of Temperomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder. So I went to the dentist.

And they gave me an ultra-sexy mouth guard. You know, one of those delicious acrylic-y things that are custom-molded to fit your mouth. Oh yeah. Between that and my fish oil balm for my face, my husband found me irresistible!

But then something funny happened. I just clenched on top of that thing. It didn’t help at all. But I believed it was preventing damage to my teeth from the clenching, so I kept wearing it. And for some reason that I couldn’t pin down, eating just got more difficult and more uncomfortable. I chewed on one side and it just felt like my teeth weren’t lining up properly.

And then I attended 2012’s Ancestral Health Symposium. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t expecting much from a talk titled “Craniofacial Dystrophy—Modern Melting Faces”, but what the heck? And this is a good example of how attending an event like this can completely change your life. It’s worth the 25 minutes of your time, I promise.

TEETH TOGETHER. LIPS TOGETHER. TONGUE ON THE ROOF OF YOUR MOUTH. Could it really be so simple? I quit wearing my mouth guard that very night and I’ve never looked back. “Teeth together. Lips together. Tongue on the roof of the mouth,” has become my mantra. I do this while driving, while typing, and even while sleeping, where I hook my jaw over the edge of my foam ergonomic pillow to keep my mouth together.

At first, it was difficult to get my teeth to even want to connect with each other. But with diligence and practice, they started to become reacquainted with each other. My jaw, on the right side, still pops from a ligament or some sort of connective tissue that isn’t used to the new arrangement yet, but it doesn’t hurt, and during the times I’m especially good about my exercises it happens less. So I suspect that someday it will be less of an issue or disappear completely.

It took me a while to figure out why my jaw had gotten so far off track. Then—BINGO! Another strike against yoga for me. Here’s my jaw when it’s together, as the exercise dictates:

My Face - Proper Jaw Alignment

And here’s me when I’m employing yoga technique:

My Face - Open Jaw

You can see my facial muscles are much more slack, my jawline looks softer (not desirable as I age…), my cheekbones are less apparent, and I look like a bit of a mouth-breather. What is harder to see is that in the bottom photo, my lower jaw is actually sliding down and forward. My lower teeth start to jut out further than my top teeth. The whole posture pulls my tongue forward, causing—you guessed it—the tongue thrusting that was causing so many problems.

Sure, sure. There are aesthetic reasons for this sort of treatment. For whatever evolutionarily built-in reasons, there appear to be universally accepted traits of attractiveness, and a strong jaw, facial symmetry, and high cheekbones help serve that purpose. This is a controversial area of research, and it can infect people with a judgmental outlook on humanity or even slide into eugenics at its worst. But we shouldn’t be too quick to throw out attractiveness as a mere cultural phenomenon, since many of the traits that occur in the face are physical markers of a much deeper health issue, and thus, subject to sexual selection (read: how successful you will be in luring people to where all the magic happens). As Mew mentions in his talk, there are other implications to craniofacial dystrophy such as ear, nose, and throat complications, sleep apnea, and TMJ.

P. boisei's massive molars

P. boisei’s massive molars

What was surprising for me about Mike Mew’s presentation were the before and afters. Granted, he works with children whose bones and muscles are more malleable than us poor adults, but that doesn’t mean we’re a lost cause. As he mentions, he’s spent the past seven years reshaping his face too. When I took undergrad anthropology courses, I learned about skull shapes throughout primate evolution. Some, like Paranthropus boisei, had massive molars twice the size of modern-day humans’ and a sagittal crest for large chewing muscle attachment. Some theorize these characteristics were due to a diet of tough nuts, seeds, and fruits, though this may be up for debate after looking at dentition wear patterns. The point being that it seems like it might take millions of years for these sort of adaptations, but in modern-day humans, changes can happen in a generation or two. And when looking at the before/after pictures, it’s hard to argue that progress can’t be made in one lifetime.

What’s really crazy is that I expected the exercise to INCREASE my clenching, and that hasn’t happened. It’s actually reduced it. How is that possible? I’m no scientist, but Mew talks about how these days our food is all soft and mushy. Americans consume an insane amount of liquid that isn’t water—juice, smoothies, sodas. We love things like mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, dishes that require very little chewing effort. Much of what we do in the kitchen and to our food supply is in the service of making it easy to break food down or provide us with the nutrients for less effort. We breed produce to be more palatable (apples are sweeter and less fibrous these days, for example) and meat animals to be more tender (it shouldn’t be so easy to cut meat with the edge of a fork). We buy all sorts of kitchen gadgets to chop, tenderize, purée, and mix. Our jaws are simply not getting the exercise they’re used to.

Therefore, I propose that my tongue thrusting and aggressive clenching was an adaptation or response to the new jaw posturing, and that maintaining good jaw, teeth, and tongue posture tells my brain that all is well. There is information being sent along nervous system channels to properly align everything, which tells everything else to get in line and function properly. For example, my husband tells me that our teeth relate to each other and that when one falls out, others above or around it may fall out too. Everyday, we send signals to ourselves and we reap the repercussions, both good and bad. But there are absolutely signals we have control over, and it’s important to empower ourselves with that message. If you’re suffering from something health related, it really pays to do your research. Once you’re into this whole ancestral health business, seek out doctors and practitioners (also here) that understand evolution and apply those principles to their practice.

Please don't rip out my permanent teeth.

Please don’t rip out my permanent teeth.

Some of you out there may have children staring down the barrel of orthodontic interventions. I can’t recommend finding an orthotropic practitioner enough. Many conventional treatments are short-sighted and don’t address the underlying cause, and can cause problems of their own. For example, removing teeth to make room to straighten the other teeth can lead to disruption in facial shape. This seems especially crazy when you consider that Weston A. Price saw plenty of folks with straight, perfect teeth who had their wisdom teeth in AND still had room in the back. Many people get into orthotropic treatment to straighten teeth, but they end up having all sorts of nagging problems resolved like neck pain, headaches, and sinus problems. I’m finding it difficult to find a comprehensive list of practitioners, but found this one. For my part, it looks like I have a few options in the region for my daughter, but most will require a several hours drive. I think it’s worth it. I have no knowledge about this particular guy or his worthiness as a physician, but he has a very informational website if you’d like to learn more. And he invokes Weston A. Price, so he can’t be all bad.

If we’ve learned anything from our dietary adventures in Paleo, it’s that conventional wisdom can often be harmful, conventional treatments can mask or make symptoms worse, and sometimes the answers are more elegantly simple than they’re made out to be. It appears to be the case with orthodontics and facial development too.

So what can you do in the meantime? If you have breathing problems that force you to breathe through your mouth, TMJ disorder, or sleep apnea, work with a healthcare professional to resolve those. Eat tougher, more challenging foods like raw veggies (carrots and celery for example), jerky, and nuts.

And. TEETH TOGETHER. LIPS TOGETHER. TONGUE ON THE ROOF OF YOUR MOUTH.

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41 Responses to “Resetting My Jaw”

  1. The IAOM (International Association of Oral Myologists) has been around since the 70’s. They were the early pioneers of retraining “tongue thrusters” to put their “lips together, teeth together and tongue on the roof of your mouth.” My mother was a founding member of this organization, so I am quite familiar with it (and have had the therapy myself). Individuals can find certified oral facial myologists in most cities by going to iaom.com. Tongue placement and proper swallowing technique, in particular, can be life-changing for many people!

  2. hi karen! very nice job on the blog… you’re both very smart and a good writer:) impressive!
    the reason i’m contacting you is because i am adding pictures of beautiful paleo women as our Gorgeous New Cavegirl daily feature… and you are Gorgeous!!! would you mind if i used your picture? or do you have a favorite cute one you want to send me? i’ll link your blog:) oh and a favorite quote too!

    let me know… yay!
    sunny smiles,
    sophie:)

  3. Very interesting! In my family, we avoided orthodontia by using our tongues to get wayward teeth into the proper position – both my mom and childhood dentist endorsed this practice. Our teeth are strong and we don’t have problems. Not to mention we don’t have to wear pesky appliances like retainers to keep our teeth from migrating. :)

  4. thanks. very interesting!

    i was also given a night guard by a dentist to “correct my bite” (too deep) “relax my jaw” (due to the deep bite) he said i clenched my jaw probably grind my teeth too -> sore/clicking jaw

    now Dr. Mew think vertical space => weak jaw muscle = jaw dropped = mouth open = mouth breather. yes?
    he seems to be right that the night guard does make it a harder to close mouth (by elongating the jaw).

    however, for an adult, is it possible to widen the jaw? the standard solution is night guard = vertical space = bad, so how do we create “horizontal space” if now vertical

    anyway, i’ll try not wearing night guard & practice the “together” exercises. hopefully my face becomes prettier. haha

    • My understanding is that some improvements can be made, but it will take much longer as an adult due to the bones being more set in the skull. As he mentions in the video, it took him 7 years to achieve whatever results he has. I wish he had shown a “before” picture!

      Also, when it comes to more extreme adult cases, some surgical methods are still used, especially for sleep apnea or TMJ. But with an orthotropic perspective, these interventions seem to be used more sparingly and more targeted with results in mind. Luckily for you, it doesn’t sound like your situation is severe enough to warrant any surgery. So the exercises might be just the thing! But be patient. :)

  5. Hi, Karen,

    thanks for the reply.

    i didn’t sleep w/ my night guard last night.

    today i practice the “keep together”

    now a revelation: it’s somewhat difficult to keep my mouth close for > 30 seconds.

    otherwise, they become slightly open (probably due to years of the night guard which forces jaw in a “relaxed dropped position” it also pulls my chin a little forward.
    i probably look silly most of time w/ mouth slightly open, duh. you’re also right that it’s not so good to have drooping cheeks.

    how long does it take to become natural for you? right now i really have to make an effort to keep them together all the time.

    i also wish Dr. Mews showed some before & after photos, for adults.
    my mouth is not as open as Michael Phelps. my chin is slightly more recessed than yours but not pointy. so there may be hope.

    cheers,

  6. I thought modern melting faces was a great title- but then I’m far too deep into this to see the wood for the trees.
    An important note the teeth should be together but the bitting muscle and the tongue should be working as opposing mucsles, antagonists, if you do not do this you could bite too hard together leading to grinding and other problems. Remember this talk was only 20min and only a tast of these ideas come across. There is more on the web, look for orthotropics
    Mike Mew (No s on the end of my name)

    • Hi Mike! Thanks for stopping by!

      Thank you for the posture tip. I’m not sure if I’m biting too hard, because I find my jaw is much more relaxed and less tired than before. Sometimes I feel the clenching urge again, and the posture seems to fix the problem.

      Well, for only a 20 minute talk, it sure helped me a ton! Thank you for sharing it with us.

      • Not a problem, just remember to push up with the tongue- really for most of the time, use this to stop you bitting too hard. With the bitting muscle and tongue in a balance. Strangely it seems to be mentioned in yoga to some martial arts. It is a muscle system that is supposed to be in balance that we have all forgotten and is great to head posture. Without the tongue you can bite too much and end up with other problems
        Mike

  7. “tongue push-up” :-)

    i remember that Chi-Kung practice stresses that tongue should be @ the roof inside of the mouth.

    cheers,

  8. Wow, this is really hard… I can barely keep my teeth together for 10 seconds. I’m going to look into this practice some more, though, it sounds interesting.

    • Excellent. I must share this. Immediate relief. Teeth together, lips together, tongue up. I did the exercise throughout reading this article & comments. I can almost immediately feel the right side of my face & ear relaxed & tingling and already my teeth are closing properly easily & naturally. I had been in pain for two days. Yawning is less painful too. Thank you, so very much.

      • Carla Vella 06/04/2014 at 1:52 pm

        I went to bed feeling so much better last night, jaws relaxed and with less pain. Alas, woke up this morning worse, my lower jaw has moved to the left by as much as a tooth’s width, looks very strange, and with so much pain.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I had my jaw/nose broken about 18 months ago, and nothing has been the same. I’ve felt like my jaw was slightly misaligned, and I’ve had the tongue thrust issue as well. I read this a few days ago, and started practicing keeping my teeth together. THAT was the main thing, because a behavioral therapist instructed me to keep my teeth apart, lips together, tongue at the roof of my mouth. My ear, which has been completely stopped up for 18 months (terrible eustachian tube problems) HAS ALREADY POPPED. COMPLETELY. I CAN HEAR. Thank you for sharing. You have literally changed my life!

    • Wow, I wish you well in your healing! That’s quite a process and I imagine it’s been a frustrating one. If you have access to an orthotropic practitioner in your area, it sounds like it could be really helpful in your situation with injuries to your nose and jaw.

      But at the least, you can hear! Yay! I’m so grateful to have been helpful to you. This concept really got me back on track too, so I was happy to share it.

  10. Deborah Lanyon Reply 08/03/2013 at 1:14 am

    When you say ‘”keep your teeth together, do you mean the front teeth or the back teeth? I have an overbite so there is a bit difference.

    • Hmm…I assume back teeth. Not sure how it would be different for an overbite. When I try both, it’s clear to me that the back teeth activate the jaw bones much, much more.

  11. I have a tongue thrust issue but I keep my tongue at the bottom of my mouth is that bad?

    • In my experience, doing conscious periods of this exercise with the tongue gently on the roof of my mouth has helped immensely with the tongue thrusting. It’s like it resets the feedback loop to our brains and the tongue calms down. Whenever I feel it popping back up, I do more of them to reset it again. Good luck!

    • Over the last few years I’ve been contemplating greatly on these issues, and it seems that the most important point is to use the posterior one third of your tongue. It would appear that this area of the tongue which comes from different embryological origin, has a neuro communication with the deep cervical muscles of the neck.

      Most people use the anterior two thirds of the tongue which are under mainly conscious control. It seems that only by training the posterior third, that you can gain a subconscious effect. For some reason when you make an excessively cheesy smile to the extent that you’re raising your eyebrows, the posterior third of your tongue rises up. With good practice you can identify the difference between this and the normal attempt to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.

      Without ingraining a deep subconscious, conditioned reflex response you are unlikely to be able to maintain any lingual position except when you are consciously thinking about it which can never be much of the time. There are professionals known as orofacial Myologists who specialise in providing such training.

      To shamelessly promote my Facebook page I would invite you to join me on, https://www.facebook.com/groups/Orthodont/, where I moderate on discussions that include professional and well-educated lay members.

      Best wishes, Mike Mew

      • Mike, thank you! How fascinating! I really appreciate your continued feedback here. I’ve heard from several people that just reading my little post has helped them immensely. We missed you at AHS this past year, but hopefully you’ll make it out next?

      • This is not a problem, I take some time every day for social media and informing people that there are alternatives to the conventional orthodontic view point, as it is vitally important that people have adequate information to be able to make and informed choice. This is especially true for their developing children.

        The paleo tribe seems to be overly obsessed with the fine details of dietary consistency, and I see little comment on form, function and posture, except for a few people.

        It was a great shame not to make this years symposium unfortunately my mother passed away. Best wishes Mike

  12. I just had a couple questions about tongue placement. I am under the impression that you know alot about orofacial myology and found your name on a blog, figured you would have a great answer!! I have what I think is called mild long-face syndrome from where my gums are really high and it creates a shortness in my upper lip.. that is due to my improper tongue placement resulting in a very high palet. I read that you recommended training that posterior part of your tongue because it will be more subconscious to hold in place. What exercises do you recommend for proper tongue placement as I think my mouth is still malleable enough for jaw expansion (by way of my tongue)….Thank you for your time!!! Have a great day

    • Hi Nicole! I assume you mean Dr. Mew and not me! ;) Please check out his Facebook group at the link he provides above. You have a much better chance of getting an answer there.

  13. Any advice if you have a crossbite and your teeth dont fit together?

  14. Hi Karen,

    I’m curious, I have just started ‘resetting my jaw’. It’s very uncomfortable but already I can feel my cheekbones rising. How long did it take you to adjust to this routine so that it became 2nd nature rather than you concentrating on it all day?

    • I would say a few weeks. I noticed once it became more of a habit, there were times that I would slide out of it too, and would need to remind myself. But after doing this for over a year and a half now, it’s become second nature. I highly suggest Dr. Mew’s tip to use the back part of the tongue for the exercise. This has made a world of difference!

      I also think it’s going to vary from person to person. My challenges aren’t too great, as I’ve never needed major orthodontic interventions or anything of the sort.

      I’m glad you’re finding it useful!

      • Thank you one last question,

        I’m a 25 y/o male. Like you I have TMJ from excessive clenching and jawline exercises. As a youth I was a mouth breather. However i’ve been doing jawline exercises and trying to keep my teeth clenched for a good 7-8 years now and my teeth are perfect albeit I have a tendency at times to relapse into my overbite posture.

        I’m fairly slim. I was wondering if I were to gain weight while keeping the correct jaw posture would it correct my facial features or enhance them? Or is it too late?

      • Hmm…dunno. I would recommend heading over to Dr. Mew’s Facebook group (mentioned in comments above) and ask there.

  15. FromFranceWithLove Reply 02/16/2014 at 4:11 pm

    Fantastic blog post. Just posted this on the youtube video

    Hi. I’ve just discovered Mike Mew conference on craniofacial distrophy and I would like all of you to make an experiment: sleep on hard surfaces. When I do that, I feel that my tongue rest more naturally on the hard palate than when I sleep on a mastress. It’s like my tongue goes there by itself, like there are receptors that tell us to go there. On the contrary, when I sleep on a matress, my tongue goes to the bottom of my mouth…

    Maybe its just me. But it’s also one of the few other things our ancestors used to do ! Matresses are a modern tool !

    Also as I am not a native english speaker, if anyone wouldnt mind to tell me what Mew says at 17:40 after lips together, teeth together, all… ?

    • after doing it for a while, it feels very natural to rest my tongue right behind my front teeth on the roof of mouth. my lips can stay closed. my front teeth don’t bite my tongue anymore. (the tongue sometimes would stick out a little when i slept. but my teeth are still slightly apart (can’t tell outside. but my bite is also deep so if i try to keep teeth together. it feels like clenching jaws.)

      it makes sense that mattress can make a difference in head, jaw, neck. i sleep on Futon. mmm, i also stopped sleeping on my a pillow about a year ago. since even supposedly good & $$$$ pillow makes no difference in my neck soreness. (some expensive one in fact, makes it worse so why bother). if feet get stronger by having no arch support. i think neck should get stronger arch too.

      cheers,

  16. Hi, I am sixteen and have come to the horrible realization that I apparently have an issue with tongue thrusting. I’m told tongue thrusting can ruin your teeth, and I’d like to keep them the way they are! I have been given little instruction on how to overcome this, so my plan of action really extends no farther than what you’ve recommended: focusing on keeping my tongue on the roof of my mouth (in the position it forms when saying the letter ‘n’), my teeth together, and my lips together.

    This position, however, still feels very unnatural and even exhausting. I often catch myself forgetting about it and returning to my old posture. Does it ever get any easier? Will my tongue ever cling to the roof of my mouth or will it always require conscious, persistent effort? And finally, if my tongue is directly behind my front teeth will it move them; does it need to be farther back?

    Thank you for this article and for sharing your expertise!

    • Hi there! At sixteen, you’re off to a great start with this. I didn’t find it until I was 35! :)

      When I began this exercise, I used the tip of my tongue, just as you’ve described here and had the same experience. Try using the back 1/3 of your tongue instead, it becomes much less troublesome to remember and almost seems automatic.

      The difficulty of this will vary from person to person, but this little shift might just be the thing you need to make it a bit easier. Good luck!

      • If I might also chime in here: when you go through a professional myofacial therapist for tongue thrust therapy, the program generally takes a full year. Remember, you have been swallowing a certain way since you were very young. It’s important to realize that changing a major habit of any kind takes time. Yes, it’s perfectly normal for this to feel “weird” and unnatural at first. One of the techniques in MF therapy is to have you go to sleep at night holding a very small rubber band to the roof of your mouth (it’s about 1/3 the size of a dime). Sounds strange, but it works (and no, you don’t swallow it)! It will start to feel normal in time. Keep at it! If you feel like you want professional help, Google “myofunctional therapy” or “orofacial myology.” Your dentist or orthodontist should also be able to give you a local referral. Insurance often covers the therapy, particularly if you are having any associated physical problems with your tongue thrust, like TMJ. Good luck! Very cool you are on to this at such a young age….GOOD FOR YOU!!

  17. Hey i have this problem
    Too 3months ago i started clenching and out of nowhere my lips felt super weird when i closed them. Now after 3months my whole face looks completely different ie larger jaw muscles and a protruding jaw and lip incompetence and my cheekbones are now sunk in.. I dont even know what the hell happened

  18. what is the posterior of the tongue and how to use it ???
    sorry i don’t know very good english :)

  19. Very interesting article. I have good oral hygiene but my gums have started receeding in some teeth. As someone who sufferes from MS i eat drink apple cider vinegar+lemon+warm water every day, lots of fruit, and even several grams of vitamin c (cheap store stuff). Im thinking that this is probably the cause for the recession…

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