Dr John Mew and his son Dr Mike Mew attempt to get to the root cause of the modern epidemic of misaligned teeth and jaws, against the tide of the orthodontics industry. Celeste McGovern reports
The hundreds of human skulls in the Morton Cranial Collection at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia were part of one of the world’s largest collections of its kind, representing specimens from the Stone Age to the 19th century. American physician Samuel Morton had gathered most of them from across America, South America, the Middle East and beyond in the 1800s.
In 2020, a New York Times writer was looking at the specimens with one of the museum’s modern curators and asked whether she’d ever seen an ancient specimen with crooked teeth. “No, not one. Ever,” the curator replied without hesitation. They all had an “edge-to-edge bite,” “robust” jaws, and “perfect” dentition.
In specimens from people who lived in the last two centuries, however, there is a striking difference: the perfect bite is gone, and crooked, missing, and misaligned teeth suddenly appear common. The curator pointed to a skull on a nearby shelf that belonged to a 19th-century North American woman. Unlike the strong, forward-set jaws on the ancient skulls, this post-industrial woman’s upper jaw was small and crinkled, and the dentition that remained was crowded.
“I always told my students, ‘Something happened 200 years ago, and nobody has an edge-to-edge bite anymore—and I have no freaking idea why,’” she said.
Anthropologists agree that something profound has happened to human jaw development and teeth alignment, yet mainstream medicine and orthodontics don’t seem to know just what that was. The current explanation is that modern “malocclusion”—or a bad bite—is primarily genetic.
“Your teeth are too large for your jaw,” explains the distinguished Cleveland Clinic while acknowledging that some environmental forces, such as thumb sucking, may cause a fraction of the trouble.
Orthodontics is focused instead on fixing the symptoms of the epidemic—straightening modern teeth and smiles—and orthodontists are very busy. At any given moment, 4 million Americans1 need or are wearing braces, and nearly half of all kids will have them by age 18, though adults make up more than a quarter of the clientele. In the UK, over 200,000 young people get braces annually, and a rising number of adults are doing the same.2
One survey found that just 35 percent of Americans had nicely aligned incisors,3 and teeth crowding has led to the widespread dental practice of extracting wisdom teeth. It’s practically a rite of passage now: 50 percent of Americans have at least one wisdom tooth yanked by age 25, and 70 percent do so by age 60.4 A quarter of young people who get braces also have an extraction in the UK.2
Orthodontics is largely ignoring the underlying causes of its thriving business in alignment. However, a host of symptoms tags along with dental misalignment, according to Dr John Mew and Dr Mike Mew (orthodontichealth.co.uk), a father-son duo of orthodontists from a suburb of London. One is mouth-breathing, which distorts naturally beautiful faces, creating double chins and ill-defined features.
But mouth-breathing also squeezes airways and is tied to sleep disorders including snoring and the epidemic of sleep apnea. This tendency to stop breathing during sleep is connected to a range of deadly modern plagues, from heart disease5 and cancer6 to depression7 and dementia.8
Affecting soaring numbers of children, the lack of oxygen that results from sleep apnea is related to brain damage with lowered IQ9 and a host of rampant behavioral problems, including ADHD.10
The Mews have a radical theory to explain the modern epidemic of crooked teeth, a phenomenon they say is much more critical than its impact on smiles, as the long list of accompanying problems shows. If accepted, their opinions would radically alter mainstream orthodontic practices, which they claim in most cases only worsen the underlying cause of malocclusion.
As a result, not surprisingly, they are opposed by the General Dental Council (GDC) in Britain. In 2017, the GDC stripped the father, John Mew, of his license to practice at the age of 89 for “publicly denigrating the traditional practices of orthodontic tooth movement,” as one group of orthodontists explained, “and boldly heralding his own etiologic concepts of malocclusion.”11
The GDC has now also alleged misconduct against the son, Mike Mew, who is under an exhaustive investigation at the time of this writing.
Despite the controversy, the Mews’ renegade ideas are gaining huge traction—and not just in more than 2 billion views on TikTok alone of content about their “mewing” technique to correct the position of the tongue. There are also millions of viewers of their Orthotropics YouTube channel, which presents videos about their alternative approach to guiding jaw and facial development.
This grassroots movement has been dismissed by the mainstream orthodontic profession as a “social media craze” and by the mainstream media as a “far-right” movement of conspiracy theory and toxic masculine obsession with GigaJaws and Brad Pitt looks. But clearly it extends far further afield.
A growing frontier of orthodontists with “airway-centric” and other approaches around the globe is adopting many Mew practices to correct jaw and facial development, for example. A large and growing body of scientific research supporting their ideas is also coming from fields outside of orthodontics.
Growth and developmental biologists, evolutionary biologists, neuroendocrinologists, ear-nose-and-throat specialists, prosthodontists, sleep medicine specialists and breathing experts are aligning with the Mews’ central, but most unorthodox, principles.
Imagine David Attenborough as a dentist, and you have the elder Mew. In early practice, he was enthralled by the perfect teeth of animals—the crocodile with its 3-foot upper and lower decks of teeth meeting in precise occlusion, “or they’ll die,” he says in one YouTube video.
He wondered about the processes governing that precision in human development as well. Ancient jaws in British museums, like those in the Pennsylvania collection, also set John Mew thinking about the prevalence of modern bad bites.
“My belief is that it was the advent of cooking that led to the slow but progressive degeneration of the human occlusion and that any modern child who was brought up on a diet of unrefined, uncooked food would develop normal occlusion,” he states in his weighty textbook, The Cause and Cure of Malocclusion (orthotropics.com).
Our ancestors chewed their tough, raw food well and slowly, from a young age, encouraging well-developed masseter muscles and large oral cavities. Modern food processing, including canning and the dawn of industrial pureed baby food, mean less chewing than ever before.
This change may translate into smaller jaw muscles and bones, especially for babies and small children. Add to the mix bottle-feeding instead of nursing and the practice of weaning infants too early onto spoon-fed, mushy food, and the picture of tiny, weak jaws with no room for erupting teeth comes into focus.
It’s a theory that has since been backed by hundreds of studies, including most recently a 2023 study from researchers in Greece. They fed rats a soft diet and found that the animals grew narrower dental arches, a smaller and narrower maxilla, and a “retrognathic” lower jawbone, meaning it was behind where it should be.12
A review of 38 studies of humans has also shown that a hard diet, consisting of more tough and crunchy foods, improves the coordination and alignment of the jaw.13
Back in the 1970s, Norwegian orthodontist Egil Harvold experimented with rhesus monkeys at the University of California San Francisco by blocking their noses with silicone plugs. He showed that the resulting mouth-breathing in the animals altered their facial appearance, giving them long, open-mouthed faces—called “long face syndrome”—and eventually led to the development of their crooked teeth.14
It turns out the teeth resting apart, even behind closed lips, alters jaw structure. Among other changes, this alteration causes a downward and backward rotation of the mandible, leaving the airway susceptible to the collapse and narrowing prevalent in sleep apnea.15
Harvold also demonstrated that a gentle pressure of the tongue against the palate in the mouth (the normal positioning of the tongue) causes the upper arch to widen and accommodates a normal arch of teeth.16
“I am constantly amazed that the observations of this brilliant thinker and researcher are so ignored,” John Mew says. Modern orthodontics focuses instead on straightening the symptom of crooked teeth while leaving the mouth hanging open.
Besides attributing malocclusion to soft foods, Mew proposes that the increased prevalence of allergies (a result of humans moving indoors from the fresh outdoors, causing greater exposure to concentrated allergens) has led to blocked noses and increased mouth-breathing.
Immune-mediated allergic conditions, including hay fever, have soared even more in the 20th and 21st centuries, reaching “unprecedented, pandemic proportions,” according to a 2022 study reviewing global data.17 Something particularly prevalent in the last century is adversely affecting children’s immune systems—with mouth-breathing as a consequence.
In 2014, Mike Mew published a paper in the British Dental Journal proposing a syndrome that he calls craniofacial dystrophy (CFD) and outlining the Mew theory of the degradation of the human face.18
Possibly due to a combination of changes in chewing by modern humans and an open-mouth posture from increased allergies, mouths develop with less space for the tongue, the airway and the teeth, and the normal adult swallowing pattern is replaced by a “suckling-like” swallow.
These changes may lead to a range of symptoms, including crowded teeth, bad bites, earaches, sinusitis, teeth grinding, temporomandibular disorders (TMD), body posture changes, snoring and sleep apnea.
The impact on facial beauty occurs at the same time. If the maxilla—the upper jawbone that also forms part of the nose and eye sockets—doesn’t grow large or forward enough, then the big lower jawbone or mandible “downswings,” according to Mike Mew.
The chin recedes then, and the face appears elongated. It may also seem to flatten because the cheekbones are less defined. Lines may appear under the eyes, and the nose may seem large—all causing the effect John Mew calls a “melting face.”
If accepted, the Mews’ new theory “leads to the socially uncomfortable conclusion that the facial development of most modern humans is not attaining its full genetic potential,” Mew wrote, imploring his fellow orthodontists to “consider the possibility of a better solution to this problem, since the possible ramifications extend far beyond teeth.”
Mew, who launched the internationally supported campaign Prevent Crooked Teeth (preventcrookedteeth.com) to draw attention to childhood oral development, also remarked that since the changes affecting the face entered society quietly, they have become so widespread that it could lead to a “distorted view of normal.” Look around, and you’ll see what he means.
Lots of people have their lips parted while they walk or scroll their phones. Slouching and forward-bent text-necks are common. Melting facial profiles aren’t hard to find. Like obesity and metabolic syndrome, however, commonplace doesn’t mean normal—or genetic.
Perhaps the orthodontics field and the GDC aren’t happy with the Mews because their theories raise the horrifying specter that current orthodontic practices only worsen the epidemic. Mainstream orthodontists routinely extract healthy teeth (possibly shrinking the jaw further) and push the jawbone further backward at the expense of faces and airways.
Photographs of orthodontics-treated and -untreated identical twins in Mew’s textbook illustrate the potential damage.19 Since they are dentists first, and their focus is on teeth, has orthodontics missed the damage being done by standard-of care treatments? If so, they’d hardly want it known.
Some past patients seem certain of the damage. Online there are forums with names like Victims Damaged by Orthodontics and Craniofacial Action Group where thousands of members discuss how to cure “orthodontic problems” and promote alternative therapies. Members describe a gamut of side effects, from sleep and breathing problems to chronic pain.
“Their solution to my underdeveloped maxilla was to retard my mandible,” one young woman wrote on a platform. “That’s like having one crippled leg and the doctor’s solution is to cripple the other leg so they can match for aesthetic purposes.”
Another 30-year-old woman from Germany said the TMJ problems that resulted from a misplaced orthodontic appliance were so severe that she developed cervical and back pain and even walking became painful. Depressed and anxious now, she says she can sleep only two hours a day and has applied for euthanasia in Spain twice.
“I’m quite horrified that orthodontics is still carried out, that the great majority of people have orthodontic treatment and the great majority of those have extractions,” says John Mew, who founded the London School of Facial Orthotropics (lsfo.co.uk). “Nearly all of them, in my opinion, have damaged faces and damaged teeth, and afterwards the teeth relapse unless they wear a retainer for the rest of their lives.”
When he was an assistant to an orthognathic surgeon in the 1950s, John Mew saw the dramatic facial improvement from surgery to pull the maxilla (upper jaw) forward in cases of disfigurement. He became convinced that the correct architecture of the maxilla is the “seat of facial beauty,” and the bucket-handle-like swinging mandible adjusts to its upper mate.
He began developing ways to move jaw positioning forward as it should be, non-surgically, his practice of orthotropics compared to standard orthodontics. Fix a child’s “oral posture” with proper tongue position and lip seal (with techniques like mewing—see below) and using devices to expand the palate (like the Mews’ Biobloc expander used around the world), and a more beautiful, healthy face and teeth develop.
“Give me any child, and I can make them beautiful,” Mike Mew says. The proof is in the before-and-after pictures of some of the children the Mews have treated at their practice in Purley, outside of London.
Nicola Charter was told by mainstream orthodontists that she would have to wait until age 16 and have extensive jaw surgery to correct her overbite. Her grandmother heard about John Mew, and Nicola went to him instead. Today, she has a gorgeous face and jaw with no hint of overbite.20
In 2021, California orthodontist Sandra Kahn and Stanford University professor emeritus Paul Ehrlich published their book Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic (Stanford University Press, 2021). Kahn had seen John Mew present his ideas nearly a decade earlier and recalls it as a ground-shaking revelation for her. Mew’s orthotropics hit her with the clarity that must have first hit early scientists with the idea that earth wasn’t the center of the universe.
It explained so much of what she saw in her practice, and even in her own children. She took her son to John Mew for treatment.
Her friend, a fellow conservationist, happened to be Stanford University’s prominent evolutionary biologist Ehrlich, who was fascinated when she explained orthotropics.
Mainstream orthodontics’ dismissal of the pandemic of crooked teeth as genetic bad luck strikes him as absurd. “Clearly, it’s almost entirely caused by the dramatic changes in our environment,” Ehrlich told WDDTY, adding that there’s not been “remotely enough time for even strong selection favoring small jaws and crowded teeth to make such a large change.”
There’s no sign of any such selection, anyway. Why would there be?
Ehrlich now warns people to take the lifestyle changes that can have devastating consequences for the face and body seriously. “If you are a parent, especially of young children for whom you are considering braces, or a pregnant woman, you should inform yourself about the serious impact of industrializaton on human facial structure and health,” he says.
Kahn joined Ehrlich and two other Stanford professors, Robert Sapolsky, neuroscientist and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (W. H. Freeman and Company, 1995), and Marcus Feldman, co-director of the University’s Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics, plus Simon Wong, founder of Postural Orthodontics in Alexandria, New South Wales, to publish a paper outlining the extensive science explaining the “jaw epidemic” in the journal BioScience in 2020.15
It’s “time for a broad revision of dental and orthodontic training,” they conclude. “People can do something significant individually—in particular, to help protect their children.”
They outline the “societal changes” that must occur to rein in the jaw epidemic, beginning with an emphasis on breastfeeding and a move to “baby-led-weaning” practices that encourage correct swallowing and tongue position, followed by an emphasis on “oral posture”—teeth lightly together, tongue against the palate, lips sealed—that leads to good structure and health.
“I’m convinced it’s the time we spend doing nothing that is more important,” says Kahn. It’s what we’re doing when we are not eating or speaking, but when all the elements and cells are resting and recovering that is important. “We want to do things right and repeat them” until we do them unconsciously and naturally.
To that end, Wong and Kahn wrote a book of good oral posture exercises illustrating simple chewing and speaking that encourage proper posture and growth (see below).
“As long as we have kids learning the right posture before they are four years old,” that’s what will make the difference, Kahn said. “After that, it’s a dog chasing its tail.”
For adults with shrunken jaws, Kahn is convinced that surgery is the main option. She recommends only one surgeon in the world to do it: Federico Hernández-Alfaro, head of the Maxillofacial Institute and professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the International University of Catalonia in Spain. But, she says, that’s “a big process.”
Mike Mew sees the value of corrective surgery, too, but is less pessimistic about the possibility that the adult human body and face can change.
“If someone in their 80s had a stroke affecting one side of the face, that side would downswing,” Mew says. “So, it is clearly possible to change at any age, long after growth is complete.”
The problem, he says, is that it’s not easy. We have to change our neural pathways, which change our habits, which dictate structure. Developing good oral posture (see below) is a great starting point.
Some of the rules ingrained into children in the Victorian era seem like a foggy memory of something we ought to know. They are like a prick of conscience or something a strong grandmother would say for our own good, although not so many say them to children today.
Sit up straight. Chew your food thoroughly. Close your mouth when you’re eating. Don’t speak with food in your mouth. Don’t slouch when you’re walking.
It turns out that some old-fashioned manners, when they’re done consistently, are the basics of good “oral posture” that is foundational to excellent teeth and jaw development. A cadre of orthodontists is trying to get people to teach these basic principles to children to counter an epidemic of weak jaws and mouth-breathing that has led to crooked teeth, less beautiful faces and a host of medical disorders, like sleep apnea.
“Stand up straight and shut your mouth,” says London orthodontist Mike Mew when asked what basic things people can do to change their faces.
The position of good oral posture—teeth lightly together, lips sealed, tongue sealed up on the palate—seems to be intrinsically tied to good body posture.
An open mouth posture (and even lower teeth hanging away from upper teeth behind closed lips) impacts facial development negatively.21
Mike Mew’s technique to train correct oral posture—called “mewing”—has become a viral TikTok trend. Here’s how you do it:
The free Mew app by Mike Mew offers tips to make the technique a habit (available in the Apple App Store and in Google Play for Android).
The loss of chewing effort required for eating processed foods may be the main reason for all the crooked teeth we see today. Chewing whole foods and gum—a lot—with the mouth closed is one recommendation for building up jaw muscles and strengthening teeth.
Mike Mew is disinclined to recommend big-bolus chewing gum to older people with weak jaws and possible temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs), however. Instead, he advises “tongue chewing.” Rather than chewing gum between the teeth, press it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, spread it out, then roll it up into a ball with your tongue and repeat.
Orthodontists Sandra Kahn and Simon Wong have co-written their own guide, GOPex: Good Oral Posture Exercises, available to download free at Wong’s website at Postural Orthodontics (straightteethnaturally.com). It outlines proper sitting and standing posture and exercises, including this one to practice proper chewing and swallowing:
Dr Frank Seaman, a prosthodontist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, introduced the current mouth taping trend. As a dentist dealing with damaged and missing teeth and jaw disorders, he sees a lot of patients who grind their teeth.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, can wear down teeth and cause TMDs and terrible headaches. It’s also related to sleep apnea.22
When he was talking to a pulmonologist about sleep apnea at a conference, the doctor said he wished he could glue his sleep apnea patients’ lips together at night. Seaman wondered, why not just tape them? He tried medical-grade tape on himself in 2014 and then suggested it to his wife, who suffered from severe sleep apnea.
Without the tape on, her baseline measurement on the Respiratory Disturbance Index, which measures sleep breathing disturbances per hour, was 43 (30 is considered severe sleep apnea). When she repeated the study another night wearing mouth tape, her RDI fell to just 1.5.
Convinced it was safe, Seaman started recommending mouth tape to all his critical teeth-grinding dental patients, and their measured average sleep apnea scores fell 40 percent on the first night wearing mouth tape. Over a few months of wearing the tape at night, their RDI dropped an average 82 percent.
He says his patients were thrilled at how their teeth grinding reduced, too. TMDs vanished, and jaw and muscle pain were reduced.
“Headaches disappeared. They weren’t snapping teeth,” says Seaman, who recommends it to all his patients now. “They are really happy with the results.”