Straightening Out the Differences Between Orthodontics and Orthotropics

The last in a five-part series about intellectual debate in dentistry, we review the differences between traditional orthodontics and the alternative practice known as orthotropics.

By Susan Richards

After reviewing the intellectual battleground of the dental profession in our five-part editorial series, we see there's a wealth of opinions on practices, products, and principles. From the occlusion wars to mercury fears in amalgam fillings, to DIY dentistry and conflicting directives on long-held practices such as flossing and rinsing, we’ve examined the points of view that are rooted in history and those that have evolved over time – for better or for worse.

Closing out the series, we'll look back to the occlusion debate of bone vs. muscle and explore the controversial practice of orthotropics, an unconventional alternative to orthodontics.

Alternative Holistic Dentistry

There's always a new trend popping up in holistic medicine, and dentistry is no different. While focusing on the whole body – such as nutrition education – and what can benefit oral health, some holistic dental professionals include aromatherapy, hypnosis, and electroacupuncture in their treatment regimen. They oppose root canals and amalgam fillings and prefer “biocompatible” materials whenever possible.

When it comes to creating a pleasing smile, there are those who look outside the realm of traditional orthodontics for treatment. More than 50 years ago, a British dentist developed his own natural method of treating malocclusion, calling it orthotropics – based on the Greek words Orthos (straight or erect) and Tropos (reaction or change). Orthotropics is also referred to as “mewing,” named after its inventor John Mew and his son Michael Mew, a proponent of the practice.

While mewing continues to maintain a professional following with many devotees on social media, the traditional school of straight teeth would like to have a word.

Old School Orthodontics

Orthodontics is an important branch of dentistry, and typically addresses improper bites and crooked teeth. While cosmetic appearance is often considered, the main goal of orthodontic care is to improve chewing and speech, as well as prevent damage from tooth decay and gum disease.

Perhaps the most familiar tool of the trade, wire braces are predominantly used to treat the growing mouths of adolescents. Fortunately, technology and oral appliances have continued to evolve and provide greater options–depending on the patient’s needs and the practitioner’s preferred methods. Appliances, both fixed and removable, may be used alone or in conjunction with braces and include:

  • Retainers
  • Aligners
  • Headgear
  • Palatal expanders
  • Fixed or removable space maintainers

These tools can assist the orthodontist in correcting everything from crowded teeth, gapped teeth, underbites, overbites, and more. Some problems may be attributed to external forces such as accidents, thumb sucking, or clenching of the jaw, but many orthodontic issues are considered inherently genetic.

The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) notes other signs that may indicate it’s time for a consultation, including early or late loss of baby teeth, clicking, or shifting jaws, the inability to easily close the lips, and mouth breathing.

The Pseudoscience of Orthotropics

Dr. John Mew’s foray into reshaping orthodontics was primarily based on reshaping the face. His documented belief is that the evolution of the human lifestyle – softer foods, eating utensils, earlier weening – has led to weakened jaw muscles and distorted teeth. But rather than extracting teeth or utilizing braces and retainers, the Mews’ method is primarily focused on keeping the tongue on the roof of the mouth.

Yes, really.

In addition to the tongue placement, good posture and oral exercises will result in a well-defined jawline and all-around more attractive features – according to the Mews and their organization the International Association of Facial Growth Guidance (IAFGG).

Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support mewing, a number of dental professionals around the world, and a fervent segment of the YouTube community, swear by the method. Notably, John Mew had his dental license revoked in 2017 by the General Dental Council for misconduct and publicly maligning the practice of orthodontics. The younger Mew has claimed he was expelled from the British Orthodontic Society due to his beliefs and prolific social media posts on them.

To Mew or Not to Mew

While there've been anecdotal reports of successful mewing, it should be noted that many of the social media followers are adolescents bound to exhibit natural changes in the face and jaw. Similarly, there have been evolving opinions regarding the best ages and stages to commence orthodontic treatment, as well as exciting advancements in adult orthodontics such as Invisalign®.

There will always be intellectual debates in the field of dentistry, and we should continue to embrace the lively discourse. However, the decision to "Mew or not to Mew" ought to remain fittingly tongue-in-cheek.


Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education. With over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing, Susan’s career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.

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