In the thousands of years since humans transitioned from being hunters and gatherers to living indoors, the human jaw has shrunk in size. This has resulted in an increase of children needing braces and orthodontic work, jaw alignment problems, and crooked teeth. It also leads to a greater chance of Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, ADHD, and depression.

Dr. Paul Erlich, Professor Emeritus of Population Studies at Stanford University and co-author of Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic explains that because chewing hard foods at a young age exercises the jaw muscles, pre-agricultural humans did not experience the same health issues because of shrinking jaws as humans do today. Dr. Erlich says that the modern practices of decreased breastfeeding, increased mouth breathing, and high exposure to allergens found indoors exacerbated shrinking jaws. 

Dr. Sandra Kahn, orthodontist and co-author of Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic explains that there is a lot of evidence from skulls that show humans used to have enormous jaws that fit wisdom teeth, and that it was very rare to find overcrowding of teeth. Dr. Kahn says that like other muscles in the body, the jaw must be frequently exercised. The shrinking of the jaw is an extensive public health problem, though steps can be taken to decrease the issue starting at birth. 

Guests:

  • Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Professor Emeritus of Population Studies at Stanford University and co-author of  Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic
  • Dr. Sandra Kahn, orthodontist and co-author of  Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic

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