The fields of cranial osteopathy and dentistry are intimately related.  Dentists and DOs have long collaborated in the treatment of conditions related to the teeth, jaw, mouth and face.

The integration of the two fields of practice is possible because the body is a connected unit of function.  Structural integrity and inherent physiologic motion are expressed throughout the whole human being, with patterns in the face and jaw being reflected throughout the body.  The repeated daily functions of breathing, swallowing and chewing directly involve the structures of the head and neck and are coordinated with the whole body.  These functions are vital for general health and well-being.

Dental considerations are especially relevant in children, as the functions of breathing, swallowing and chewing guide facial and spinal development.  A child who cannot breathe through her nose, for example, will open her mouth instead, dropping the tongue.  This may create an abnormal swallowing pattern and lead to a narrowing of the upper palate, causing crowding of teeth and an overbite.  The child may then bring her head forward to open her airway, creating an anterior head posture, straightening of the normal neck curve, rounding of the shoulders and turning in of the legs and feet.

DOs trained in cranial osteopathy can assist in oral-facial development by releasing restrictions throughout the body and restoring normal function.  When osteopathy alone cannot correct these dysfunctions, coordination of treatment with myofunctional therapists (what is myofunctional therapy?) and functional dentists can optimize cranial symmetry, function and development.

Only a few dentists in the Bay Area are trained in osteopathic principles, using light force appliances that guide and direct the body’s inherent forces to support normal function and correct structural imbalances ( find an ALF dentist or myofunctional therapist).  These dentists, often referred to as functional dentists, respect the wisdom of the body and follow the patient’s response and timing in order to determine the methods and length of treatment.  Often these dentists work in close collaboration with DOs, either by phone or in person, treating patients together in their offices.

Below is a table created by my colleague, Eric Dolgin DO, outlining the differences between traditional orthodontics and functional dentistry (for more information, visit  Included also are photos of a traditional palate expanding appliance and a functional palate expanding appliance.  The functional appliance leaves room for the tongue to come to the roof of the mouth for normal swallow and breathing functions, and uses light forces distributed along the dental arch for integrated expansion.

Traditional Palate Expander

Functional Appliance
Traditional Orthodontics Functional Dentistry
Has the dentist deciding the length of treatment- generally 2 years (works at the dentist’s pace). Lets the body decide the length of treatment (works at the body’s pace)
Works with the idea that the dentist knows what is best and decides when and where everything should go Works with the idea that the body knows what is best and it decides when and where everything should go
Uses large forces over a short period of time to generally move teeth in the bone. Uses small forces over a long period of time to assist and make space for the body to change.
Moves the teeth in the bone primarily Allows the bone to grow so teeth are in proper adult relationship
Is not very concerned with proper swallowing function Develops proper swallowing function
Looks mostly at the teeth Looks at the whole body