Face and Jaw Development in Children

Proper child development goes beyond height and weight. If a child’s face and jaw do not develop to their full genetic potential, there can be consequences. 

These consequences do not just affect your child’s appearance; they can contribute to bite problems, poor oral health and the need for orthodontic treatment, as well as jaw health problems, chronic conditions, behavior disorders, sleep breathing problems and headaches. 

The reason? When there is improper oral facial growth (the face or jaw do not fully develop), there is strain, stress, and wear and tear on other parts of the body. This deficiency of growth can be serious and leave kids at risk of health problems and cognitive disorders. 

But while the stakes of deficient jaw and facial development are high, the situation is frequently overlooked by pediatricians and even some dentists.  

Influences on Facial Development

Three main factors affect facial development and jaw growth. These factors, known as “The Big Three,” are: 

  • Nasal breathing (see why this is so important here)
  • Lip seal
  • Proper tongue position

If a combination of these factors is interrupted during growth and child development, imbalances of the craniofacial structure can develop. These imbalances are known as mid-face deficiency and long-face syndrome and can contribute to bite malocclusion. 

Factors That Affect The Big Three 

Some of the factors that can negatively affect the development of The Big Three include: 

  • Chronic mouth breathing (caused by enlarged tonsils or enlarged adenoids, allergies, or soft tissue dysfunction)
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Nasal obstruction 
  • Incorrect tongue posture
  • Poor oral positions
  • Incorrect swallowing patterns
  • Thumb- and finger-sucking
  • Poor oral habits such as extended pacifier use or extended sippy cup use
  • Genetics 
  • Tongue- and lip-ties

Visible Signs of Facial Development Problems

The signs of interrupted facial development include: 

  • High, narrow upper palate/narrow maxillary (upper) arch
  • Mid-face deficiency and flattened face
  • Elongated lower face (long jaw syndrome)
  • Narrow face
  • Recessed chin/jaw (“weak chin”)
  • Sunken cheeks
  • Setback eyes
  • Small jaws, crowded teeth, not enough room for all adult teeth
  • Poor mouth postures
  • Forward head posture
  • Interruptions in breathing during sleep 
  • Disordered breathing 

Mouth breathing is serious. In addition to it being very noticeable, there are other consequences of mouth breathing and poor oral rest posture that are not always noticeable to the eye or are frequently not related to facial growth issues, and they can be just as serious and affect child development and your child’s quality of life, including: 

  • Problems with jaw joints, such as temporomandibular disorder
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Poor posture 
  • Neck pain
  • Behavior and mood disorders
  • Difficulty learning
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleep breathing disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea
  • Teeth clenching 
  • Grind of teeth 

Kids and Sleep Breathing Disorders

There are two types of sleep breathing disorders that affect children: central sleep apnea, which develops when the portion of the brain that controls your breathing does not work as it should, and obstructive sleep apnea, which develops as a result of a narrow upper airway or blockage in the upper airway. 

When the airway is blocked, it causes interruptions in breathing. These interruptions impact the quality of your child’s sleep, leaving them tired, grumpy and at risk of illness.

This obstruction can be caused by — you guessed it — facial growth and jaw development problems. 

Jaw growth and child development issues contribute to breathing conditions. When the upper jaw does not fully develop, the upper airway is more narrow than in children who have fully developed jaws. Additionally, when the lower jaw is set too far back, the tongue falls back to block the airway, causing interruptions in breathing. 

Other causes of the condition include:

  • Obesity
  • Genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, neuromuscular disease or cerebral palsy
  • Genetics (a family history of sleep breathing disorders)
  • Face and skull abnormalities

Why Breathing Quality Matters

Breathing is one of the most fundamental components of living, and when your child cannot breathe during sleep, there is stress on the body and its organs, tissues and cells. As we mentioned above, frequent interruptions in breathing caused by obstructive sleep apnea and underdeveloped jaws can result in poor sleep quality. 

This translates to daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, mood swings, learning problems and more. 

Unfortunately, in many cases, these effects are not immediately connected to sleep problems, and children are often labeled as: 

  • having attention deficit disorder
  • having disruptive behaviors
  • defiant
  • hyperactive
  • lacking social, cognitive, behavior skills (lack of restraint) or emotional control 
  • poor communicators 

In many instances, children living with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea due to underdeveloped jaws and narrow airways are more likely to have a C or lower grade average compared with children who do not have sleep breathing conditions or obstructive sleep apnea. 

Get Back to Breathing

Traditional treatments for obstructive sleep apnea include the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, designed to push air into the upper airway to keep it from collapsing and keep your child breathing. Unfortunately, these devices are cumbersome and claustrophobic for many adults, and children don’t love them either. 

The Bend Headache Center understands this and the importance of consistent quality breathing, and we offer patients a treatment alternative to the CPAP machine using a custom-fit oral appliance designed to help keep your child’s airway open so they can breathe through the night. Proper breathing means proper child development.

Noticing your child is a mouth breather? We can help. 

Learn more about the benefits of nasal breathing and how we can help your child breathe, correct facial and jaw development, and improve overall health by calling us today to schedule a consultation.