Scientists Unveil New Method to Predict Head Growth Patterns

Measuring height is a familiar part of childhood visits to the doctor. The primary way that growth is evaluated is via growth standard charts, which plot percentiles for height across a range of ages. Measuring growth traits in the head, which includes the upper jaw, palate, and lower jaw, is more complex.

“One of the major challenges to establishing growth standards for the head skeleton, unlike height for instance, is that different regions within the head grow at different rates,” says Dr. Kevin Middleton, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences. “Consequently, the head experiences multiple growth spurts depending on the specific region being examined. Currently, X-ray imaging is the only viable method for measuring the head skeleton.”

Now, a new study in Scientific Reports shows that the timing of growth milestones can be accurately estimated for traits in the head using cross-sectional data. Middleton, along with Dr. Richard Sherwood (Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences), Dr. Dana Duren (Department of Orthopaedic Surgery), and collaborators from the University of Minnesota, University of the Pacific, and Case Western University, utilized a very large sample of individuals who had a longitudinal series of images taken throughout adolescence. They compared estimates for the timing and magnitude of the growth spurt across traits and found a high degree of agreement among them.

“These findings instill confidence that future studies into the 3D anatomy of the head across growth will be able to produce similarly accurate estimates,” says Middleton.

The new method could aid craniofacial surgeons, orthodontists, and dentists, allowing for more effective treatments and earlier diagnosis of craniofacial disorders.

Citation: Middleton, K. M., D. L. Duren, K. P. McNulty, H. Oh, M. Valiathan, and R. J. Sherwood. Cross-sectional data accurately model longitudinal growth in the craniofacial skeleton (2023) Sci. Rep. 13:19294.