An Orthodontist’s Response to Orthotropics & the Mew Philosophy

Orthodontists in Grandville, MI

There has been a lot of recent attention given to Orthotropics – a label established by John Mew in Great Britain in the 1980s. As leading Grand Rapids, MI, orthodontists, we felt it would be appropriate to share our thoughts on the Orthotropic outlook and our responses to some of the recent hype given to the topic. 

Orthotropics focuses on head posture, muscle balance, and proper breathing to help influence ideal facial growth. Orthotropics uses a series of removable appliances and at-home exercises to encourage proper muscle functioning in growing children. A recent social media trend has gone viral called “Mewing” – a process of flattening the tongue on the palate and performing tongue exercises as a way to try to develop a more well-defined jawline. In addition to the social media trend, a new documentary was released on Netflix titled, “Open Wide”, which chronicles the efforts by John and Mike Mew to spread the word regarding Orthotropics. 

At Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics, we believe there is merit to many of the claims made by the Mews and the Orthotropic way of thought. We incorporate a lot of the same philosophies in our practice and use them every day. However, we also have seen shortfalls of Orthotropics first-hand and want to summarize those as well. 

Let’s start with some of the merits we see with the Orthotropic thought process.

1. The Muscles Surrounding Your Teeth Play a Vital Role in Tooth Alignment

An imbalance in the amount of pressure placed on the teeth by the tongue, lips, and cheeks can cause significant tooth movement. The normal positioning of the tongue should always be in the palate, but often that is not the case. When children have a tendency of placing their tongue between their upper and lower front teeth during swallowing instead of in their palate, they’re said to have an anterior tongue thrusting habit. 

Read MoreWhen Should I Take My Child to the Orthodontist?

When a tongue spends too much time between the front teeth instead of in the palate, many children will develop an open bite – a condition where the upper and lower front teeth will flare towards the lips. When the child bites together, only their back teeth will touch. For each of our new patients, we perform a thorough exam and evaluate tongue positioning as it relates to tooth alignment.

2. Proper Facial Symmetry and Jaw Relationships are Key to Proper Growth and General Health

Without a doubt, people with ideal facial growth are more likely to have overall improved general health compared to individuals with facial asymmetry and improper facial development. A wide palate, open nasal passageways, and a throat that is not constricted are all critical factors to proper breathing and sleep quality. 

Proper breathing leads to sufficient oxygen in the blood to support ideal growth and development. When growth is complete, proper breathing lends to improved general health. Your nose is an air filter and when underutilized, can cause a wide variety of general health issues including high blood pressure, frequent colds and congestion, and sleep apnea to name just a few. Each new patient to our office receives a Sleep and Breathing Quality Questionnaire that is reviewed by our doctors. 

3. Treating Patients at a Younger Age Can Be Extremely Beneficial

One of the great attributes to Orthotropics is the desire to address underlying issues before all of the teeth grow in. At Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics, we are known for valuing a multi-phase approach to treatment. 

Related PostPhase 1 Treatment

By treating kids at a younger age, we are able to identify growth imbalances, insufficient space for teeth that need to grow in, evaluate and treat muscle imbalances, and improve your child’s ability to be able to grow in all of their teeth. With adequate space, the teeth often grow fairly straight! 

Ok, so we’ve gone over the areas in which we align (pun intended) with the Orthotropic perspective, here’s a few areas that we would advise you take caution:

1. Orthotropic Treatment Often Takes 10-15 Years and Costs Much More Than Traditional Treatment

Our average orthodontic treatment time for patients is 18-24 months. Sometimes, our treatment is split up into two phases with each phase typically lasting around 12 months. Patients that have come to us frustrated with Orthotropics have spent inordinate amounts of years in treatment and amassed bills for treatment over $10,000! 

2. Many Patients Come to Us in Their Late Teens Burnt Out with or Having Been Told They Were Done with Orthotropics

The way we approach orthodontics is to make your treatment as stress-free as possible and the things we do tend to require significantly less compliance than the Orthotropic philosophy. Many times when an Orthotropic treatment is not going well, the patients are made to feel guilty or blamed for not wearing their removable appliances a sufficient amount of time. 

We reduce stress on our patients and the parents of our patients by doing most of the work for you. You can rest assured that your child’s teeth will become straight as long as they can handle metal or ceramic braces glued to their teeth and not be tempted by overly hard and crunchy foods. 

3. Orthotropics/Mewing Falsely Claims to Grow or Change Jaw Structure in Adults

Unfortunately, once we finish growing, our jawbones are locked into a specific alignment to where no amount of muscle or habit changes will change how they are oriented. If the jawbones are significantly out of position, we are able to combine orthodontics and orthognathic (jaw) surgery to establish an ideal jaw relationship in our adult patients. 

Read MoreHow Is Adult Orthodontic Treatment Different?

In the ‘Open Wide’ documentary, it can be easily observed that John Mew is a highly opinionated individual with very strong convictions for his cause. This has worked well for him in convincing parents that any treatment style other than his own is ruining children and their teeth despite orthodontics being around far longer than the Mew philosophy. 

However, it is important to realize that the orthodontic treatment philosophy has also evolved as we have learned, studied, and researched our field. There was a time in the past when forces being placed on teeth with braces was too high - causing damage to teeth. There was also a time when many orthodontists resorted to removing adult teeth to fix crowding. 

Removing adult teeth has been speculated (yet not proven in research) to constrict the tongue space and violate proper functioning of the teeth and jaws and in our practice, it is extremely rare to need any extractions if we see patients while they are young. The type of orthodontics that we practice at Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics uses gentle forces on the teeth to eliminate any potential damage to the teeth and we are very deliberate in studying each patient’s jaw balance, muscular posture, and breathing habits to ensure the jaws are properly balanced in the face. 

Our two-phase approach to treatment has proven to be a wonderful way to mix the best of both worlds - the tried and true orthodontics ensuring ideal fit of the teeth and an ability to combine that with a thorough evaluation and treatment of patient growth and development. 

Final Thoughts

We think that the British Orthodontic Society did not act appropriately when handling John and Mike Mew. There are very good things that the Mew’s can bring to the table to help encourage dentists and orthodontists. We also believe that the Mew’s could acknowledge the incredible work and progress the field of orthodontics has made and the lives that have been transformed by traditional orthodontics. 

When personalities on both sides of a debate are strong and stubborn, typically not much progress is made. It is important to always come back to asking ourselves “what is best for the patient?”. At Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics, we believe our comprehensive approach to straighten teeth in the presence of healthy jaws and balanced faces has allowed us to incorporate the most comprehensive and thorough treatment for our patients. 

We are also committed to continuing to learn from other fields in dentistry and medicine to continue to improve our treatment and our patient’s outcomes.

Make an Appointment

If you’d like to learn more, our orthodontists in Grand Rapids, MI, suggest you read the following book, “Breathe” by James Nestor. Otherwise, call Armbrecht & Wierenga Orthodontics today at (616) 455-4800 or contact us online to schedule a new patient exam if you’d like to see what can be done for you or your child.