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Ancient people never flossed, brushed, or saw dentists, yet they all had straight teeth. Modern anthropological findings show us how our jaws have evolved to be smaller, and this evolutionary change has contributed to a higher prevalence of crooked teeth, misaligned jaws and interrupted sleep for modern humans. Our small jaw size compared to our prehistoric ancestors makes us more susceptible to dental alignment issues. Interestingly, it also explains the prevalence of sleep apnea and other chronic respiratory conditions experienced by modern humans. 

 

The Morton Collection of human skulls
This collection of hundreds of ancient human skulls and other skeletal remains from all corners of the world played a pivotal role in the development of early American anthropology and the study of human racial differences. Although The Morton Collection and Dr. Morton’s racial classifications have been widely criticized for promoting unfounded scientific racism, these well-preserved skulls reveal that ancient humans had remarkable dental and respiratory health without the dental hygiene practices and medical care that we take for granted today.

 

4 factors that contribute to the change in our jaw structures 

Why do modern humans have more overcrowding, misalignment, and malocclusion than our prehistoric humans? 

  1. Diet: the shift in diet from a tougher, more fibrous diet that required significant chewing to a softer, more processed diet. The diets of our ancestors more effectively promoted the development of strong jaw muscles and wide dental arches, unlike our modern diets of highly processed foods high in refined sugars. 
  2. Culture: Certain cultural practices, such as bottle-feeding, thumb-sucking, and pacifier use, can also influence jaw development in children. These practices may lead to malocclusion issues when they are not properly managed.
  3. Evolution: Evolutionary adaptations may not keep pace with the rapid changes in lifestyle and diet observed in recent centuries. While our jaws have become smaller compared to our prehistoric ancestors, this change has occurred over thousands of years. 
  4. Oral habits: Modern oral habits, such as mouth breathing, may also contribute to dental alignment issues. Breathing through the mouth can influence the development of the upper and lower jaw, potentially leading to malocclusion.

Why early humans didn’t need sleep apnea treatments

The Morton Collection shows us that early humans from all corners of the world had wider and more robust jaws which provided ample space for their airways. This natural width and spaciousness of the jaws allowed for unobstructed airflow through the nose during sleep, reducing the likelihood of breathing interruptions characteristic of sleep apnea. Modern humans often have narrower jaws and facial structures, which can lead to a higher risk of sleep apnea. The reduced space in the oral and pharyngeal region can lead to compression and airway obstructions during sleep, contributing to the development of sleep apnea. 

 

Read our article ​​Discover The Best Sleep Apnea Treatment In Saskatoon 

 

The evolution of our jaws, combined with changes in diet, lifestyle, and cultural practices, has made sleep apnea, dental crowding and malocclusion more prevalent today than ever before in history. However, dental science and orthodontic care have also evolved to offer effective solutions to address these issues and promote good oral health. 


Straighter teeth and better sleep with NEESH Dental
The ancients didn’t need orthodontics or sleep apnea treatments because of their larger skulls with open airways, wide mouths and plenty of room for all the teeth to sit straight. You can’t go back in time, or change your skull, but you can achieve straighter teeth, better sleep and improved oral health with help from the NEESH Dental team. 


Keeping up with regular dental cleanings and exams is the best way to mitigate the oral health risks associated with having small-mouthed modern skull structures.

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