Of the 14 bones that make up your face, your mandible—lower jaw—is the largest and strongest. Unlike the other bones in your face, the mandible is not attached to your skull, and therefore has the incredible mobility that allows you to eat, speak, and spit. Time, diet, and dental work affect your mandible’s shape and size.
How Your Diet Shapes Your Jaw
A recent study by the University of Kent examined mandibles from different cultures around the world. Irrespective of genetic differences, diet dictated the eventual shape of peoples’ jaw. Hunter-gatherer societies, who foraged throughout the day and ate foods that required a lot of chewing, had longer and narrower jaws that allowed teeth to erupt correctly. Agricultural societies, with a softer diet and set mealtimes, led to wide, short jaws with a much higher incidence of crowded teeth. Though it might sound like a step backwards, the hunter-gatherer diet is in many ways healthier. Eating raw, fibrous fruits and vegetables stimulates gum tissue and saliva production in addition to positively affecting jaw shape. The tough, indigestible cellulose in these raw foods also naturally cleans between teeth.
Where Does the Time (and Bone) Go?
Aging also changes the shape of the jaw. Over time, your mandible becomes longer, thinner, and more steeply angled. This contributes to the loss of facial definition, which is a major characteristic of old age. Teeth become more crowded, though the degree of crowding varies from person to person. Your jaw also loses bone mass as time goes by, and restorative dental work must account for this shrinkage. Removable dentures eventually wear away some gum and bone tissue, while dentures anchored by implants do not.
Other factors contributing to jawbone loss are missing teeth and untreated gum disease. Healthy tooth roots (and dental implants) have bone growing right up to the edge, and these roots or implants stimulate the bone to continue growing and repairing itself. When you lose a tooth, the bone in that area starts to wear away. The bacteria that causes periodontal disease gets between the gum line and jawbone, causing irritation and eventual tissue loss.
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will keep your smile shining. Cosmetic dentistry can help turn back the clock and keep your smile looking younger.
Dr Fondriest is a Nationally recognized and highly sought after cosmetic dentist serving clients from throughout the United States