Orthognathic Surgery | In-Depth

What is orthognathic surgery?

Orthognathic comes from the Greek word “orthos,” which means straight, and “gnathos,” which means jaw. Orthognathic surgery is a set of surgical procedures used to correct jaw abnormalities resulting from skeletal problems. 

Who needs orthognathic surgery?

This operation is an option for people with malocclusion (misalignment of the teeth) that cannot be fixed with orthodontics alone. Proper alignment of the teeth and jaws will improve your ability to chew and bite into foods as well as the appearance of your smile and facial profile. 

Common jaw abnormalities include:  

Lower jaw problems

  • A small or underdeveloped lower jaw maycause difficulty biting into food and/or breathing. Your upper teeth may jut out or overlap your lower teeth, causing your chin to look receded.
  • A large or overdeveloped lower jaw may cause your chin to appear too far forward and your lower teeth may overlap your upper teeth, causing difficulty biting into food and chewing.

Upper jaw problems

  • A small or underdeveloped upper jaw can cause your teeth to look receded.
  • A long or overgrown upper jaw may cause your teeth not to overlap, and your smile may show mostly gums.  

Uneven jaws

  • The jaw can grow at different rates, causing jaw or facial asymmetry. Your face can appear off-center and your upper or lower teeth may shift to one side.

When is orthognathic surgery typically performed?

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons typically choose to correct these problems after your jaws have stopped growing. This usually occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood.


What causes jaw abnormalities?

Jaw abnormalities can be caused by congenital (present at birth) defects, a genetic tendency for the jaws to grow at different rates, jaw injury or fracture, or a late growth spurt.


 Jaws that are not properly aligned may cause the following problems: 

  • Difficulty chewing food
  • Difficulty biting into food
  • Increased risk of teeth getting worn down
  • Breathing problems

What is the long-term outlook?

While orthognathic surgery is quite involved and can sometimes include years of preparation, operations are successful in fixing jaw abnormalities and improving facial appearance.