What is Orthotropics?
Orthotropics is a non-surgical approach to preventing many childhood dental problems, including overcrowding and misalignment of the teeth and jaws.
This is done through the use of appliances which guide the growth of children’s mouths to naturally expand the upper and lower jaw, providing more room for teeth without extractions and bone expansion surgery and appliances.
The concept was first introduced in the 1950s by Dr. Mike Mew in the UK.
Mew's premise was that guiding the growth of the jaw around a properly placed tongue, the main structural growth influencer in the mouth, meant that the body’s growth energies could be harnessed and focused to grow in ways that resulted in better tooth position and overall mouth function.
How Children’s Mouths Change
There are two things in particular that can happen in a child’s life that will affect the proper growth and development of the jaw.
1) Early and Improper transition from suckling to swallowing -
Babies must develop the ability to control their tongues to stop pushing food out of their mouths. This does not occur until five or six months of age.
If children are started on spoon-feeding too early, babies actually suck the food off the spoon which engages the muscles that control the lips and cheek when they swallow. This doesn't make for a proper transition. Normally, the lip and cheek muscles are not involved in swallowing at all.
Orthotropic practitioners also believe that the liquid texture of baby food encourages babies to suck before they swallow, again, changing how the muscles of the face are supposed to work together.
2) Blockage of the nasal passages - Nearly every child gets a cold or experiences blocked nasal passages at some point in their life. Not only does this mean days of feeling miserable, but also an opportunity to introduce new and improper breathing habits and jaw growth development.
Orthotropic practitioners believe that when children’s noses are completely blocked, they have no other option but to lower their tongue and breathe through their mouth, affecting the development of their jaw and teeth. This pulls the facial muscles down.
It only takes a few days for children to become habitual mouth breathers. This means the tongue isn’t at the roof of the mouth to guide the growth of the mouth like it should be.
This can happen in older children and teens, as well, where an episode of blocked nasal passages can noticeably change their entire facial profile and result in a “long-face” appearance.
How does Orthotropic Treatment Work?
Orthotropic treatment involves the use of removable dental devices to guide the development and growth of the muscles of the mouth, teeth and jawbone into their ideal shape and in proper relationship with each other.
This can be done without extracting any teeth and involving other traditional invasive procedures. Orthotropics may be done in conjunction with traditional orthodontic alignment therapy if teeth require more adjustment once the natural jaw expansion process has finished.
The entire orthotropic treatment lasts about two years and is done in three stages.
The Preparation Phase - This phase takes three to five months. Its purpose is to widen the upper arch to open the airway and make space for the tongue. This also involves tipping the teeth forward slightly.
Patients who come to the end of this phase of treatment are sometimes said to have an “Ugly Duckling” appearance.
The Training Phase - In the training phase, the child or teen will wear a training brace for 22 hours a day, every day until the optimal result is achieved. The length of treatment varies depending on the level of patient compliance with wearing the brace.
The purpose of the brace is to train the child to keep their mouth closed and develop muscle tone while the mouth is at rest.
The Active Retention Phase - Patients enter this phase when the teeth are balanced properly between the lips and tongue, and there is sufficient space between the molars. Once this is achieved, then the patient only has to wear the training brace at night. Swallowing and chewing exercises will need to continue during the day in a process called oral myology.
Once the muscles and structures have been naturally straightened and trained, the jaw will stay in that shape and teeth will stay straight.
The Benefits of Orthotropics
Over the last few decades, orthotropic practitioners feel their treatment method has shown to result in a much better facial profile and mouth shape than traditional extraction and orthodontic alignment treatment.
Orthotropic treatment focuses on creating more space horizontally through the body’s natural growing process to relieve dental overcrowding and produce a more balanced facial profile.
Traditional orthodontics, on the other hand, focuses on treating the end result of the body’s improper growth via extractions and orthodontic movement of teeth. It sometimes includes surgical repositioning of the jaw or surgical expansion of the upper jaw, instead of addressing the cause.
Orthotropic treatment attempts to provide children, teens and adults a better facial balance, an open airway which addresses snoring and sleep apnea. It can prevent damage to and dysfunction of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Orthotropics may also avoid damage and dysfunction caused by misaligned jaws and teeth, essentially preventing crooked teeth, snoring, and gummy smiles. It’s a great alternative in preventative dentistry.
1) Discover Orthotropics. International Association of Facial Growth Guidance (Orthotropics). Web. Accessed: Jan 25, 2015.
2) What is Orthotropics? North American Association of Facial Orthotropics. Web. Accessed: Jan 25, 2015.
3) When Should I Introduce Solid Food to my Baby? BabyCenter.com. Web. Accessed: Feb 2, 2015.
4) Why are Teeth Crooked? International Association of Facial Growth Guidance (Orthotropics). Web. Accessed: Jan 25, 2015.
5) Treatment Process. The Clinic for Facial Orthotropics. Web. Accessed: Feb 2, 2015.
Reviewed February 3, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith