Everything You Need to Know About Orthognathic Surgery

If you’re having trouble chewing or speaking, you may require orthodontic treatment to correct your jaw. But sometimes, patients have more severe cases that require jaw surgery.

Jaw surgery, also known as orthognathic surgery, is used when a patient has problems that cannot be corrected by non-invasive treatment alone. These include issues that have persisted since birth, issues that arrived once the patient’s jaw developed, or occurred due to external trauma or disease.

Read on to learn more about orthognathic surgery, what it is, who needs it, symptoms associated with needing orthognathic surgery, and answers to frequently asked questions.

What is Orthognathic Surgery?

Orthognathic surgery, also known as jaw surgery, is performed when a patient’s jaws are in an improper position. To perform orthognathic surgery, the doctor carefully cuts the bone and moves the jaw into the right position.

To determine the right position, your doctor will take photos, x-rays, and 3D scans of your jaw, mouth, and face. From there, the doctor will use computer software to precisely measure the movements needed to give you a perfect bite.

Usually, incisions are made inside the mouth, so scars do not appear on the patient’s face. If the doctor has to make cuts on the patient’s face, they are usually performed on natural skin creases. Once the doctor positions the jaw correctly, the doctor will screw in small bone plates to the patient’s jaw.

How Does Orthognathic Surgery Work?

Orthognathic surgery is designed to correct improper jaw alignment that cannot be treated by orthodontic appliances alone. However, even severe cases will require orthodontic intervention prior to and following jaw surgery.

You will visit an orthodontist to begin orthodontic treatment for a period, usually between 12-24 months. Then, you will undergo jaw surgery, where your surgeon will correct your bite. Once complete, you will remain in orthodontic treatment for a few more months as your bite is fine-tuned to completion.

Jaw surgery is performed under general anesthesia, so you won’t experience any pain during surgery. You will need to stay at a hospital following your procedure.

Who Needs Orthognathic Surgery?

3D Model of Person Dealing with Jaw Pain

Patients with the following signs and symptoms are candidates for orthognathic surgery:

  • Difficulty chewing, biting, or swallowing food
  • Difficulty speaking or pronouncing certain words
  • Inability to close mouth and meet lips together
  • Receding or protruding jaw
  • Severe case of open bite
  • Sleep apnea
  • Unbalanced face

If your dentist or orthodontist notices one of these issues, they may recommend you to an oral surgeon for jaw surgery. They will try to correct your issues using orthodontic treatment first, but if your case cannot be corrected using orthodontics alone, they will recommend orthognathic surgery.

More than likely, though, you will have to undergo orthodontic treatment and orthognathic surgery. The entire process can take multiple years, but your straight healthy smile will be worth the wait.

How Long Does Orthognathic Surgery Take?

Your actual surgery will take between 2-4 hours, depending on the case. If your surgeon is only working on one jaw, it will take less time than a procedure that involves work on both your upper and lower jaws.

Once your actual surgery is finished, you will stay 1-2 nights in the hospital, where you will receive routine care like IV fluids and medication to help you through the early stages of recovery.

How Much Does Orthognathic Surgery Cost?

Treatment costs may vary based on a variety of factors, but jaw surgery will likely run you between $10,000-$50,000 without insurance. However, many insurance companies will cover at least a portion of jaw surgery that is deemed medically necessary. Click here to learn more about how you can use insurance to pay for orthognathic treatment.

Risks of Orthognathic Surgery

All surgeries have risks, but major complications resulting from jaw surgery are low. There can be some risks associated with orthognathic surgery, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Hardware failure
  • Infection
  • Need for additional surgery
  • Pain
  • Poor bone healing
  • Sensory changes to the lower parts of the face
  • Swelling
  • Teeth/bite relapse
  • TMJ pain

FAQs

At what age is orthognathic surgery performed?

In ideal circumstances, jaw surgery is performed when the patient’s jaw stops growing. This period starts in the later teenage years. However, patients can undergo jaw surgery at any age after their jaw stops growing.

How does the surgeon know exactly where to reposition the jaws?

Prior to surgery, the surgeon will take multiple sets of photos and scans, detailing your entire jaw, mouth, and face. This information is then entered into virtual surgical planning software that allows the surgeon to see exactly how many millimeters and degrees of movement are needed to give you an ideal bite and achieve perfect facial symmetry.

Will I always need surgery on both jaws?

Not always. The doctor will determine whether you need surgery on both jaws during the planning stages.

Will I have any scars on my face?

Your surgeon will try to make incisions inside your mouth as much as possible. In the event your doctor must make an incision on the outside of your mouth, he or she will limit them to the angle of the jaw, which will heal with minimal scarring.

Do I need to have my jaws wired shut after surgery?

In most cases, no, you will not need to have your jaw wired shut after orthognathic surgery. You may need to attach rubber bands to your braces in order to properly guide your bite.

How long will the surgery take?

Your surgery length depends on the complexity of your case. Routine or less severe cases will take about two hours per jaw (if surgery on both jaws is required.) More complex surgery can take 4 hours per jaw or even longer.

Will the surgery change my appearance?

At first, you may have some changes that some could call unpleasant aesthetic conditions. This includes general complaints like a gummy smile or a misshapen chin. Rest assured – once you complete orthodontic treatment following your orthognathic surgery, your smile and appearance will be happy and healthy.

Will jaw surgery change my voice?

Your voice may undergo some changes due to the change in jaw position. You may find it easier to pronounce certain words or phrases thanks to your healthy jaw alignment. Your voice may change further once you complete orthodontic treatment due to the proper treatment of your teeth. Again, this is a net positive and it may be easier for you to speak and articulate words.

Can jaw surgery fix TMJ pain?

Yes – orthognathic surgery is used as the treatment option for severe cases of TMJ pain. Since TMJ disorders can be caused by a jaw that is out of alignment, placing it into proper alignment can relieve pain.

How much does jaw surgery cost?

Jaw surgery prices may vary based on the experience of your surgeon, the area in which you live, and other external factors. Insurance can help to mitigate costs.

Is it worth getting orthognathic surgery?

Yes – better oral health leads to better overall health. If your jaw is corrected to repair issues brought on by any common orthodontic conditions, your overall health will improve in turn.

Can my open bite be corrected with orthognathic surgery?

Yes – jaw surgery is one of the best ways to correct an open bite. Due to the way open bite forms in the mouth, jaw surgery may be the only solution to straighten your smile. Learn more about undergoing jaw surgery to correct an open bite by clicking here.