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What do braces or crowding in the mouth have to do with sleep?

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At first, you may think there’s no connection, but according to Sandra Kahn, Paul Ehrlich, and a growing body of research, they’re directly related.

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Kahn and Ehrlich join the podcast today to discuss their new book, Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic, which details the connection between jaw size, the need for braces and sleep quality. They explain how the transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and industrialization is perfectly correlated with the shrinkage of jaws, which has caused detrimental overcrowding in the mouth and alterations to facial anatomy that has prevented us from doing what we were evolutionarily designed to do: breathe through the nose, rather than through the mouth. This has led to an epidemic of sleep problems in people of all ages, including children, and is evidenced by the growing number of children who require braces. “It’s not that braces are necessarily bad, but they’re not addressing the real problem; they’re causing us to think that things are fine when they’re not,” says Kahn.

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Despite the fact that most dentists and orthodontists blame genetics for these changes, Kahn and Ehrlich have devoted over five years’ worth of research to the issue and have found that everything points to environmental rather than genetic causes, explaining that the changes have occurred at a rate significantly faster than genetic evolution ever could. “We’re in a really sad epidemic—one that a lot could be done about, but that not much is being done about,” says Ehrlich. They go on to discuss the connections between Alzheimer’s and jaw malformation, how conditions such as depression and ADHD could actually be caused by poor sleep quality, how wisdom teeth are an “invention of industrialization” and their removal a huge money-maker, and the importance of shifting our focus from treatment to prevention.

Tune in and check out their book at for detailed explanations and illustrations of all this and more.


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