When properly aligned, the lower and upper jaw fit together, helping to keep your teeth aligned. This allows you to take a bite of your food, chew food and even breathe normally.

However, some people’s jaws do not grow in an aligned manner or an injury can keep the jaw from being properly aligned. If this is the case, orthognathic surgery may be needed to surgically correct the jaw.

Candidates for Orthognathic Surgery

An oral and maxillofacial surgeon performs orthognathic surgery procedures to correct any jaw issues. You are considered a candidate if your bite issues cannot be corrected with orthodontic procedures, you have breathing difficulties, you cannot eat your food properly and/or have significant pain due to jaw alignment issues.

Sometimes you may require both orthodontic treatments and orthognathic surgery to correct jaw misalignment concerns. Orthodontic treatments such as braces and retainers also may be needed after jaw surgery to ensure the jaw is kept in alignment.

Orthognathic Surgery Types

There are several different approaches to orthognathic surgery. Your physician will evaluate your unique condition and make recommendations based on your goals and symptoms.

  • Sagittal Split Osteotomy of the Mandible: Involves moving the lower jaw forward or backward.
  • Lefort I Osteotomy of the Maxilla: Involves manipulation of the upper portion of the jaw to treat gummy smiles, short/long faces, open bite, overbite or underbite.
  • Genioplasty or Inferior Border Osteotomy of the Mandible: Involves moving the chin in a variety of possible positions, such as forward, back, upward or downward.

About Orthognathic Surgery

Orthognathic surgery can be an outpatient procedure, meaning you go home in less than 24 hours after your surgery. However, you may require a slightly longer stay if you have an increased risk for complications. Your surgeon can give you an idea of how long you might be staying.

The surgery involves using general anesthesia, which puts you in a deep sleep. Your surgeon will access your mouth via incisions inside your mouth, which means you will not have visible scarring.

The surgery may take anywhere from one to several hours before the desired effect is achieved.

Orthognathic Surgery Recovery Process

Your can expect some swelling and pain following surgery. The swelling tends to reach its highest point about two to three days post-surgery. Keeping your head elevated and applying ice compresses for 10 to 15 minutes at a time several times per day can help to reduce swelling and pain.

While your surgeon will likely advise you against vigorous activities that could cause pain and contribute to bleeding, walking as tolerated is often recommended post-surgery. This is because walking helps to encourage healing blood flow.

You should be able to open and close your mouth post-surgery, and your physician will recommend a soft foods diet to minimize trauma to your mouth and help you adjust to a new bite or sore muscles following surgery. Examples of foods on a soft diet include a baked potato, cooked pastas and cream-based soups. You may continue this diet for up until about four weeks post-surgery.

Discomfort may last two to three weeks as your body continues to heal.

You can expect to return to work or school after about one week. However, more extensive surgical procedures may require additional recovery time. You may need to avoid vigorous physical activity such as jogging or high-impact aerobics for three months or until your physician gives you the okay to resume.

In total, the initial healing phase will likely take about six weeks, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. The jaw itself will take longer to heal, however, and may take anywhere from nine months to a year before your jaw fully heals.

Orthognathic Surgery Results

Your results often depend upon how well you care for your teeth and follow your physician’s recommendations post-surgery. You may need to continue wearing an orthodontic appliance, such as braces for several months after surgery. However, successful surgery means you may experience improvements in your bite and overall functioning of your jaw. If you were concerned about your appearance or speech prior to surgery, you also may notice improvements that improve both aspects.

The decision to pursue orthognathic surgery can be a commitment in time and finances. Work with your physician to ensure you maintain realistic expectations and you will likely be pleased with your results.