18-27 Segment 1: The Shrinking Human Jaw

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3.5 million children get braces every year, and many adults live with obstructive sleep apnea. These two complications, along with several others, are all part of an epidemic that began when hunter-gatherers moved to an agricultural environment and lifestyle. Co-authors of the book Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Professor Emeritus of Population Studies at Stanford University, and Dr. Sandra Kahn, orthodontist, identify the cause of these problems to be a shrinking jaw.

About 75% of kids have alignment problems with their teeth by the age of 13, and many adults sleep in a CPAP machine to keep their airways free, because their tongue is too big for their jaws. The root of both of these issues is the fact that the jaw is too small and doesn’t get enough exercise. Over time, our diets have become progressively made up of softer foods, mothers don’t breastfeed for three to four years like they used to, and we wean children to soft foods. All of this adds up to a jaw that hasn’t developed well, leading to wisdom teeth, crooked teeth, and sleep apnea later on. Basically, “we’ve brought hunter-gatherer jaws and teeth into a McDonald’s environment,” Dr. Ehrlich says.

Although not many experts have explored and written on the topic of the shrinking jaw, there are some potential solutions to these problems. Dr. Kahn says we must mold our children’s teeth before the age of 10, or it will be too late. By breastfeeding longer, weaning to tougher foods, and encouraging chewing gum, we may prevent the costly and serious complications of a shrinking jaw later on.

To learn more about the shrinking jaw epidemic or to purchase a copy of our guests’ book, see the links below.


  • Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Professor Emeritus of Population Studies at Stanford University and co-author of  Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic
  • Dr. Sandra Kahn, orthodontist and co-author of  Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic

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Coming Up On Radio Health Journal Show 18-27

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The Shrinking Human Jaw

Over the last 8,000 years, the human jaw has been getting smaller due to an increasingly soft diet and a lack of jaw exercise. The result is an epidemic of crooked teeth and serious health consequences, as two experts explain.

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