Updated: Nov 8, 2020
We filmed the skull collection at the Penn Museum at U Penn and discovered this ...
On the left Sydney pre-surgery, on the right a 3,000 year old skull.
It's true. Syd is no Neanderthal. This is confirmed by a number of medical professionals who are working on groundbreaking airway projects. These big brains compare the anatomy of our modern faces to skulls from centuries ago. A quick glimpse at Sydney above shows that her jaw sits further back than the ancient artifact's. The old skull has a pronounced jaw. Sydney has a recessed jaw. Also, the width of Sydney's palate is smaller. Physical attributes like these have a direct bearing on the airway.
The differences become even greater the further back in time you go. If the skull above was a Neanderthal, the dissimilarities would be even more pronounced.
Most of us are aware that humans have changed and evolved over thousands of years. But faces from just a few centuries ago are also very different than ours today.
Pre-industrial skulls have jaws that are much more friendly to the airway. This tells us that the airway is not just a Syd problem. It's a human development problem.
The brilliant and engaging Dr. Janet Monge.
The Penn Museum is the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is an amazing resource for learning about the human experience. Scholars from all over the world come here to research and study. Dr. Janet Monge is the Curator-in-Charge of the Physical Anthropology Section at the Penn Museum and Adjunct Professor in Anthropology at U Penn. She is not only smart and knowledgeable, but she also has a wonderful sense of humor. She welcomed our cameras into her section and brought out a number of skulls for us to film.
Drs. Boyd, Evans, and Monge examine the ancient skulls from the Penn Museum collection.
Dr. Marianna Evans and Dr. Kevin Boyd have been working with Dr. Monge and the skull collection for years, studying how they relate to the airway. Dr. Evans is an orthodontist who solves airway challenges with facial expansion and Dr. Boyd works to prevent Airway issues by treating children at very early ages. Both are very successful dentists who have navigated their practices toward airway centric care.
Dr. Boyd shows our director, Ed, how he measures the skulls with calipers.
Dr. Monge wheeled out a set of skulls they hadn't seen before. They measured palette width and jaw, height, and depth with calipers. They compared the skulls to 3D printed skulls from U Penn's Morton Cranial Collection. They also measured it against a model from a modern skull. They confirmed their findings that skulls today have less room for the airway.
The two 3D patient models on left and right have very thin bone structure around
the nose, narrow jaws, and poor teeth. The Morton skull in the middle is square
jawed, better aligned vertically, with great facial structure.
Behind the scenes production note: we had to prop up the two patient models from behind so they wouldn't fall backwards. But do you notice that, even when resting on small blocks, they still lean back creating the illusion that the jaws are forward. Conversely, the 3D model of the old skull did not need support. It sits flat and straight on its own, perfectly balanced.
Why did human post-industrial facial structure alter over a short period of time? Drs. Evans and Boyd point to the changes in infant nursing practices and the transition to soft foods as two contributing factors. Pre-industrial peoples were nursing their babies for much longer than the typical six months and, after weaning, the children's' diets were much more gritty. The food was tougher to chew. They had to work to eat.
These children were exercising their jaws regularly from birth through adulthood. They developed jaws that were strong, wide, and forward.
Put simply, pre-industrial faces were in better shape. Every time people ate it was like sending their faces to the health club to exercise. Every bite and chew was hard work. (Their jaws were on the Peloton during every meal!) This regimen created wider airways and made it far easier to breathe through the nose. Keys to good health.
Dr. Reza Movahed with Dr. Evans and Boyd comparing the skulls.
The doctors were joined Dr. Reza Movahed, an expert in oral anatomy and Sydney's MMA surgeon. Dr. Movahed has designed methods and tools for his successful procedures. The doctors discussed how the development of the face has created the very problems that Dr. Movahed must now repair surgically. They discussed how some airway challenges can be mitigated by addressing today's nursing and diet practices.
Currently, Dr. Boyd is working with patients as young two years old to help them avoid airway challenges and surgery.
He sees this as an important area of focus for dentistry. In her practice, Dr. Evans focuses on treating the whole face, not just the teeth. She specializes in implant therapy, orthopedic palatal expansion in children and adults, to bring her patients' faces nearer to their pre-industrial, and more optimal, shape.
Dr. Zoga, Dr. Abdulrahman and Dr. Evans examine the artifacts and compare them to the 3D patient models.
Currently, Dr. Evans is working with Dr. Juliana Zoga, DDS and Dr. Reem Abdulrahman, DMD on a major, soon-to-be-published, paper that should challenge traditional dental methods and treatments. The collections at the Penn Museum have been instrumental in helping the team gather the information and research needed to create this groundbreaking work. We will interview Dr. Evans once the paper is published to discuss her findings and how it relates to the airway.
Our camera operator, Chris, studies the shot as Dr. Monge and Dr. Abdulrahman arrange a skull on the turntable. This 3,000 year man could have never imagined that his spinning head would be featured in a documentary.
Two notable ENTs, Dr. Raj C. Dedhia, MD, MSCR, Director, Division of Sleep Surgery Penn Otorhinolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery (left) and Dr. Eric Thuler, Dept of Otolaryngology, Hospital Samartino, São Paulo, Brazil (right) discuss the airway with Drs. Abdulrahman and Zoga, at the Penn Museum.
Dr. Monge, who inspires so many and has opened the Museum's collections to thousands of professionals, finally has a quiet moment to relax in her lab with one of her old friends.
This was an amazing production day. We discovered important new information to feature in the Airway documentary. Special thanks to Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director at the Penn Museum. She worked very hard to make sure we captured the best material in the safest way during these challenging times.
We are reminded that the collection and preservation efforts of institutions like University of Pennsylvania's Penn Museum have made it possible for professionals to better understand and solve the health changes that face us today.
Sydney's journey has opened up many new doors. We look forward to capturing more bright minds who are on the cutting edge of airway research.