The ‘art of chewing’ was recently the subject of a bestselling book by American author James Nestor. This fascinating book explored ideas surrounding the role of chewing in oral and respiratory health.
The upshot of Nestor`s argument is that modern diets (which are softer and hence require less chewing) are stunting bone development for many. In turn, causing all sorts of oral/respiratory issues. He even goes on to call modern humans the ‘worst breathers in the animal kingdom’. A result of poor breathing and chewing practices.
This is where sugar-free gum could be used as a form of ‘jaw cardio‘, where the muscles and bones surrounding the mouth can be trained through consistent gum-chewing.
Nestor argues that there’s a reason why the vast majority of people on the planet now have some sort of breathing difficulty. He believes it’s because our mouths have not grown to the size they were supposed to and this is why many have crooked teeth.
He hypothesises that we have crooked teeth because we have a mouth that’s too small for our faces and when teeth grow in they have to fight for room. Having a smaller mouth also means you have a smaller airway and that is one of the main reasons behind the prevalence of sleep apnea, snoring and upper airway resistance syndrome.
What I found so interesting in the book was learning that our ancestors didn’t have these problems. They all had perfectly straight teeth and if you don’t believe me (because I certainly didn’t believe this) just take a look at ancient skulls.
So what should we be chewing?
Ideally, we should be eating the stuff that we’ve evolved to eat right? So there’s a reason why all of our ancestors had perfectly straight teeth. Why they had these wide mouths, why they had these larger airways and wider nasal apertures. It is because they were chewing real food and this is what our species has done for as long as we’ve been around.
So there’s nothing really sophisticated or complex about this. It’s just that if you look at modern food even what’s considered to be healthy food: avocados, smoothies, yoghurt, oatmeal. Yes, this stuff is healthy, it has vitamins, minerals, and all that but it’s also all soft. So you’re hardly chewing at all. Therefore you can go throughout your day, throughout most of your life even, never really chewing.
If you think about how we evolved, we were chewing on bones, chewing on roots and our ancestors were chewing for hours every single day.
Masticatory stress is actually so beneficial for our skeleture and for our breathing later on in life. However, it depends on how you do it. So if you think about when you’re stressed out, when you’re in traffic, for example, you clench your jaw almost as a protective measure. But that does not elicit this parasympathetic or relaxation response that’s connected with chewing. What we need to truly benefit from this connection is that parasympathetic relaxing response and fortunately, you can get that from chewing sugar-free gum.