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What Is Orthognathic (Corrective Jaw) Surgery?

If your oral surgeon recommends that you have orthognathic (pronounced or-thug-‘nath-ik) surgery, just the unfamiliar word may spark your worries that something serious might be wrong. Take a deep breath and realize the Greek word “orthos” means straight and “gnathos” means jaw. Put them together to form “orthognathic,” and you get, in laymen’s terms, a surgery to reposition your jaws.

Orthognathic surgery does more than correct jaw alignment and occlusion, however. As your jaws are moved forward or backward, up or down, the facial soft tissue in your chin, cheeks, lips and the tip of your nose move accordingly. Once your jaws are correctly positioned, you’ll have a more attractive profile.

What types of problems can this oral surgery treat? Bruixism, TMJ disorders, sleep apnea, chewing problems, speech impediments, poor facial alignment and issues with jaw prominence are common examples. The best candidates for orthognathic surgery are typically people between the ages of 18 to 45 who are dealing with one or more of these problems. (The procedure is seldom performed on children under age 18 because the jaw has not stopped growing. People older than 45 may be a good candidate as well, depending on their overall health and dentition.) Whenever possible, we recommend that patients try less invasive techniques first. For example, sometimes orthodontics alone can alleviate jaw problems.

But simpler techniques don’t work for everyone. Some people need a combined orthodontic and surgical treatment approach, which begins with a preoperative orthodontic setup. After the dental arches are aligned, an oral surgeon performs the corrective jaw surgery to fix one or both jaws in the new correct position. Following oral surgery, orthodontic treatment lasts until all teeth are brought into a perfect bite, or “occlusion.”