How your mouth affects your posture
Poor body posture is often associated with chronic back and neck pain, but did you know that the mouth can be a major cause? My earliest memories on posture come from primary schooling. Our teachers reprimanded us to “sit up straight” in class as though our slouching was a sign of nefarious intentions. For the teacher, at least, good posture demonstrated attentiveness in class. They never taught us how I was to maintain it! Was it purely a conscious act of obedience or were there other factors in play leading to our bad posture?
A person with a good posture has their head perfectly balanced upon the spine, and the spine display a slight natural ‘S’ bend. It is usually associated with athleticism, endurance and confidence. By contrast, a person with poor posture frequently has a forward head posture, rolled shoulders and an unbalanced pelvis. This gives rise to a slouched or hunchback appearance. People with a poor posture are associated with poorer health, impaired breathing and fatigue.
The study of our posture and movement of the body (termed kinesiology) dates back to the 4th century B.C. during the time of Aristotle who made general observations on human movement. It was not until the 15th century A.D. that Leonardo da Vinci make quantum leaps in our understanding.
Da Vinci had a fascination with the human body that led him to discover the importance of body symmetry for body balance and our centre of gravity. He described in great detail the human mechanics of standing, walking and the human gait. His profound belief that the human body had perfect proportions led him to draw the “Vitruvian man” shown on the left. He further proposed that even buildings of his time should architecturally resemble the proportions of the human body!
Whilst Da Vinci was revered in his time for his attention to detail, Professor Alfred Fonder in the 1960s also caused a stir. This person whilst not as well know as Da Vinci, began to confirm the strong links between a bad “dental bite” and poor posture.
In October 1968 the parents of a 16 year old boy were convinced that their son’s spine deformity (called a ‘scoliosis’) was related to his mouth. Professor Fonder examined the boy and discovered that there was not enough jaw support on his back teeth.
He built up his back teeth by ½ mm to provide the extra support for his jaw. Three weeks later he arranged for a follow-up spinal x-ray to be done. To this amazement, the boy’s scoliosis was gone and his spine returned to its normal posture! The changes to his posture are shown in the x-ray pictures to the left.
Professor Fonder later realized that poor jaw support actually created “high stress” in the whole body giving rise to common symptoms such as jaw joint pain, ear complaints and restless sleep. He coined the phrase “Dental distress syndrome” for the various bodily complaints that people had when the main factor contributing to their problems was their teeth.
Even prior to these findings, Dr Wille May, a 1960s Amercian dentist was able to report various health improvements in over 1200 of his patients when their teeth were properly supported. A consistent lack of proper jaw height was found in his patients. This lack of jaw support directly contributes to chronic neck and back pain and degeneration.
Just like Benjamin Button in the movie directed by David Fincher, we are born with a body structure that has already “aged” several decades. For those interested, you can read the the about the life work of Weston Price to understand why this is so common in present-day society.
So what are we to make of these findings? First, it is important to accept that the mouth can and does play an integral role in affecting one’s posture. Secondly, if you are suffering with jaw, neck or back issues, it is essential that you seek out a health care professional who understands what is causing these problems in the first place. Thirdly, if knowledgeable health care providers were able to consistently treat or refer us for the appropriate therapy then our level of pain and suffering would substantially decrease. I believe our healthcare system should embrace the philosophy of the Buddha who once said, in life “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”