Proper sleep and good health stems from healthy mouths, jaws, and throats, according to recent releases written by dentists.
To many people, especially adults, dentistry seems like a supplement to essential healthcare—nice if you have insurance for it, but if not, just keep brushing and hope for the best. In fact, in 2014, dentistry was the most common health service foregone by adults due to affordability issues, according to the nonprofit group Families USA.
But two new books authored by dentists reject the notion that dental care is something auxiliary to overall health care. A healthy mouth, they argue, is the gateway to a healthy body, good sleep, and a happy life.
Gasp!: Airway Health – The Hidden Path to Wellness, by Michael Gelb, DDS, MS, and Howard Hindin, DDS, along with Carol Richardson, M.Div MPH, expounds a dental philosophy (and line of classes and products) the authors call Airway Centric.
Holistic dental care is also the basis of Growing A Healthy Child: Secrets From a Wise Old Doc, by William P. Smith, Jr., DDS.
The two books are marketed a little differently. Gasp’s preface suggests it is paradigm-shifting, while Growing a Healthy Child boasts of old wisdom. But they tell the same basic story. Dental, sleep, and many chronic health issues begin in infancy, the authors write. Bottle-feeding and weaning infants to soft food leads to weak jaws, narrow palates, and reduced airways, all of which compromise the ability to breathe. Without adequate breath, a child sleeps poorly and, as a result, develops behavioral issues; as a teenager, they might visit an unenlightened orthodontist who extracts teeth from a crowded jaw, shrinking the airways even more; then, after a lifetime of struggling to breathe properly in the daytime and at night, they grow into an unhappy adult struggling with fatigue, pain, poor diet, heart issues, obesity, and/or mental health issues.
It’s a pretty grim picture. But it can be prevented and even reversed, the authors write.
For example, the Gasp authors describe Nancy, a woman in her 70s who presented with back and neck pain, headaches, sinusitis, and fatigue. “Within months of opening her airway with Airway Centric oral appliances Nancy was feeling rejuvenated with little to no pain.” Smith also suggests jaw-positioning devices for use in adults, although he doesn’t go into details about types of devices or suggest specific brands.
It’s best, though, to catch these problems in childhood, the authors write. To do that, a parent has to be an advocate for their child’s health and they might have to get a little creative. Smith writes about his father, also a dentist, who, due to a childhood accident that left him missing most of his left thumb, was locally renowned for his ability to scare children off thumb-sucking. “If you can find a dentist missing a thumb or finger, this is an option you have. Maybe a non-dentist could offer such a performance for your child.”
Aside from some very specific Googling, there are other ways to stump for a child’s airway health. Order allergy tests and sleep studies for children who are acting out in school, Gelb and Hindin write. Consider paying out of pocket for high-quality sealants, says Smith. Breastfeed, say all three, skipping lightly past the socioeconomic complexities of that advice.
Gasp is written with the zeal of the converted: the authors suggest that airway-centered disorder and its attendant sleep-disordered breathing could be to blame for everything from SIDS to school shootings. Smith is equally emphatic but more reserved. Still in practice after 50 years, he passes down sensible and specific advice on posture, insurance, fluoridation, and even discipline. His book would be a good gift for an expectant parent with a higher than average attention span (there are 17 pages devoted to fluoride) or interest in a simple reference book on dental health. Gasp is likely to be enjoyed by adults who suspect their own airways are compromised. Either would make a good addition to the library of anyone interested in preventive medicine and holistic health care.
Gasp!: Airway Health – The Hidden Path to Wellness, by Michael Gelb, DDS, MS, and Howard Hindin, DDS, along with Carol Richardson, M.Div MPH. 2016. Published by the authors.
Growing A Healthy Child: Secrets From a Wise Old Doc, by William P. Smith, Jr., DDS. 2016. Published by Archway Publishing.
Rose Rimler is associate editor of Sleep Review.