Warning: Orthodontic braces may cause scoliosis. I believe it. And I believe it happened to me.
A while back, I was having intense myofascial work done by my fascial therapist and she was working intensely on my head, where I usually have many muscular and fascial issues. At one point she was actually working inside my mouth and jaw.
Oddly, I started to feel a shift inside my spine. At the same time, I started tasting cold metal inside my mouth. It was the weirdest feeling. All of the sudden, my mind flashed back to when I had braces on my teeth, some 20 odd years ago. It was the very first time I ever even considered that there was a real connection between scoliosis and orthodontics.
After years of pondering this connection, I began talking to people in multiple industries and specialties, and doing my own fair share of research.
Now I’m quite sure there’s a link.
There’s a fascia connection that goes from inside the jaw and mouth down the spine. Thomas Myers (no relation) confirmed his discovery while doing cadaver work (see graphic below, the blue areas indicate the fascial line).
I had braces on my teeth for two and a half years and had to wear headgear to correct an overbite from fifth to seventh grade. The metal part of the headgear pulled my top jaw back while a cloth strap wrapped around my neck and pulled it forward.
Knowing what I know now, I truly believe this is what started my scoli.
Interestingly, my only sibling has scoliosis too. His is not as intense as mine, but it’s there nonetheless. He, too, had braces around the same age I did and had some jaw-adjusting apparatuses along with his braces. The ratio of boys to girls who have scoli is 20/80, so my brother is in the minority. The most interesting piece to our scoli family puzzle is that scoliosis doesn’t appear in our familial past. Meaning, our scoliosis doesn’t seem to have a genetic cause.
So, where does our scoli come from? I believe our jaw-moving apparatus was the main culprit for both of our scoliosis.
In the Beautiful Scoliotic Back*, I recount working with a set of genetically identical twins, both of whom had scoliosis. Their mother was going to have one of them get braces and rubber bands to help with her overbite. I pleaded with her to reconsider because her daughter was going through puberty, and I was very worried that any teeth and jaw-shifting would make her daughter’s scoliosis worse – and it did.
I reached out to a skilled Pilates instructor and myo-fascial therapist whom I knew a long time ago because I remembered her telling me about a connection between braces and scoliosis. Here is an excerpt from an email she sent me:
“My main experience (with scoliosis and orthodontics) was witnessing at the dance studio. The generation of children that started wearing dental headgear at ages 7-9, around (the year) 1998, was the highest percentage of scoliosis in teenagers we ever had. They all went to one orthodontist – Dr. K (I took the name out to protect his identity). We actually had four students in scoliosis (back) braces out of about 160 kids. They all had worn early (orthodontic) braces as well as expanders and/or had their bites changed dramatically. The lack of stabilization coupled with dancer-type loose ligaments and dramatic hormone changes did not set them up for success by ages 12-13. ”
Additionally, research shows that there is a plausible correlation between malocclusion and scoliosis. Malocclusion is the misalignment of the top and bottom teeth as the top and bottom jaws bites together. The research shows that scoliosis and malocclusion are often related. If you have scoliosis, often times a deviation of the alignment of the jaw will be present. This also shows that if you realign the jaw, the spine will be affected. If a deviation of both the spine (scoliosis) and the jaw (malocclusion) are present, and you fix the alignment of the jaw, the scoliosis sometimes gets better.
But what about my case, where scoliosis wasn’t present but malocclusion was present? I had a deviated jaw but a straight spine. I wonder what would’ve happened to my straight spine if I had left my deviated jaw where it was. After my orthodontic work I had a straight jaw and a deviated spine. If research shows that there’s a positive correlation between the alignment of the jaw and the spine, realizing there is a correlation between orthodontics and scoliosis isn’t that hard to fathom.
Full disclosure: my dad is a dentist. I know he would never knowingly put me in harm’s way. And that’s the point: most of us don’t know about this connection between orthodontic braces and scoli. Get out there! Ask questions! I can tell you this: my kids aren’t getting braces or any having any orthodontic work done while they are living under my roof. I’m going to let them live with the mouths they have in an effort to keep their spines straight.
A final note, we’re so obsessed with perfection and vanity in America. A parent of one of my young scoli clients repeated what an orthodontist said to her about her child having a correctly aligned jaw and straight teeth, “it’s a first world problem.” How important is a “perfect” smile to you? Royalty from other countries have imperfect smiles and they seem to be doing just fine on the popularity scales.
SO, will you think twice about getting braces for your children?
If this article brought up many questions for you, I recommend my book, I Have Scoliosis; Now What?. In addition to delving into the root causes of scoli, it also explores many new research studies about the way a body with scoliosis body differs and how to take care of it. You should also feel free to reach out and book an in-person or virtual lesson with my highly trained staff or me. We’d be happy to help empower you and/or your child.
Erin Myers is an international presenter on scoliosis and founder of Spiral Spine, a company designed to enrich the lives of people with scoliosis. She’s also created a number of scoliosis resources including the books I Have Scoliosis; Now What? and Analyzing Scoliosis, the scoliometer app (iPhone and Android) and many videos. She owns Spiral Spine Pilates studio in Brentwood, TN, which allows her to actively pursue her passion of helping those with scoliosis through Pilates, which she has been doing for over 15 years.