Orthognathic Surgery

What is Orthognathic Surgery?

Orthognathic surgery involves a wide variety of surgical procedures performed to place the teeth, jawbones, and other associated hard and soft tissue structures into their best anatomical positions. Surgery along with braces is an option in some cases, but only for very severe problems like congenital abnormalities, growth disturbances, or trauma. Correction of these abnormalities generally results in improvement in function such as chewing, speaking, and breathing, and often enhances facial aesthetics.

Whenever a jaw and bite abnormality is severe enough that orthodontics alone cannot correct the problem, surgery is often necessary. In such a case the orthodontist moves the upper teeth into their best position in relation to the upper jaw and the lower teeth into the best position in relation to the lower jaw. Surgery is then necessary to correct the position of either the upper jaw, lower jaw, or both. After the jaws are repositioned, the orthodontist is then able to properly finish the bite into the best possible relationship. Surgery may also be helpful as an adjunct to orthodontic treatment to enhance the long term results of orthodontic treatment, and to shorten the overall time necessary to complete treatment.

Why have surgery?

There are several reasons why correction of a jaw abnormality through orthodontics and surgery may be beneficial.

profile of girl

  • When orthodontic treatment alone cannot correct a problem – There are times when congenital abnormalities, growth disturbances, or previous trauma have resulted in jaw positions that prevent conventional orthodontics from achieving a satisfactory functional and aesthetic result.
  • To improve jaw function – Correcting this bite frequently helps many people chew food more normally and eat things that they have been previously unable to eat.
  • To enhance the long term orthodontic result (stability) – In some cases, orthodontic treatment alone can produce a good bite relationship during and immediately after the time of orthodontic treatment. However, when an underlying jaw abnormality is responsible for the bite problem, orthodontic movement must sometimes be done in such a way that it will be difficult to maintain the position of the teeth over a period of time after the braces have been removed. Surgery can often improve the long term results in these cases.
  • Reduction in overall treatment time – In some cases there are several options for treatment including orthodontics alone or a combination of orthodontics and surgery. In these cases the combined orthodontic surgical approach can be completed in a shorter period of time since movement of the jawbone to a better anatomical position may decrease the amount of orthodontic treatment that is necessary.
  • Change in facial appearance – Placement of jaws in the proper position may often result in a more pleasing facial appearance.
  • Improved breathing – When surgery is performed on the jaw, the ability to breathe is frequently improved. This type of surgery often greatly improves problems associated with sleep apnea.
  • Improved speech – Correction of poorly positioned jaws or teeth may have a positive effect on abnormal speech. Jaw surgery may need to be combined with speech therapy to correct speech abnormalities.
  • Improvement in jaw pain – Patients who have jaw joint pain or pain in their jaw muscles may experience some improvement after correction of jaw position. While this pain reduction occurs for many patients, there is no absolute guarantee that correction of jaw positioning will be able to totally eliminate or reduce pain.

bone structure before and after


Evaluation and Treatment Sequencing

Initial Evaluation

During this appointment we hope to discuss your concerns and goals for orthodontic and surgical treatment. We will do a thorough history and clinical examination and obtain the necessary records for complete treatment planning. These records include:

  • Photographs of your face and bite
  • Special radiographs (X-rays) designed for evaluation of facial bones
  • Computerized video images of your face
  • Dental impressions of your teeth so that study models can be made. Many of these records may be completed by your orthodontist and, in some cases, these records can be used rather than repeating the process.

Treatment Planning Consultation

At this time the results of our evaluation and treatment recommendations will be presented to you and any family or friends who you feel should be involved in this process. We will use your photographs, radiographs (X-rays), computerized video images, and/or models to show you what type of treatment will be necessary. We will also show you illustrations of the type of surgery which we are recommending for you as well as examples of similar cases. We will attempt to answer all your questions at this time. However, if questions arise in the future please do not hesitate to call us for a phone discussion or to make another appointment to discuss your surgery in person.

Treatment Sequence

Preoperative Preparation (From now until a few weeks prior to surgery)

  • Prior to the time jaw surgery is completed, the orthodontist will place orthodontic appliances (braces) on your teeth. If it is necessary to remove any teeth to help with this alignment, it will be done at this time. The orthodontist will attempt to align the upper teeth properly in the upper jaw and the lower teeth in the lower jaw prior to surgery. This may not be completely finished before surgery since it may be impossible to finalize the alignment of teeth until the jaws are placed into their proper position.

Immediate Pre-surgical Period (A few weeks prior to surgery)

  • During this time the orthodontist will place surgical wires or hooks on your upper and lower braces. These wires will have small hooks or wire loops which will be used to help place your teeth in the proper position during surgery and to help hook on small elastic rubber bands or wires after surgery.
  • New records will be taken to formulate the final details of your treatment plan. New photographs, models, radiographs (X-rays), and video images will be completed a few days or weeks prior to surgery.
  • If you are having upper jaw surgery, we may ask you to donate one unit of your own blood. While the need for transfusion is very rare, should you need a transfusion after surgery you will be able to receive your own blood.
  • A few days before surgery we will complete a final discussion about the details of surgery and answer any of your questions. We will also perform a complete medical history and physical exam.

Hospital Routine for Surgery

  • You will be given a time to come to the hospital, usually very early in the morning on the day of your surgery, to check in with the Surgery Admitting Office.
  • You will then be taken to the operating room where your surgery will be completed. After surgery you will be taken to the recovery room where you will stay for one to two hours while you wake up. After leaving the recovery room, you will be taken to your room on the floor in the hospital.
  • You will be discharged from the hospital one or two days after your surgery. This depends on how you are feeling, how much swelling you have, and whether or not you are taking enough liquid orally so that you do not need your IV. In some cases you may even be discharged the same day of your surgery.

At the time of discharge you will be sent home with:

  • Postoperative instructions
  • Medications or prescriptions to pick up your medication
  • A postoperative appointment

Who Participates In The Care Of An Orthognathic Surgery Patient?

When undergoing surgical treatment to correct jaw abnormalities, a large team of people is involved, including:

  • The orthodontist and his/her staff
  • The surgeon, surgical assistants, and office staff
  • The anesthesiologist
  • Operating room personnel
  • Nurses and other health care professionals who work in the hospital

On occasion other dental and medical specialists such as periodontists, endodontists, prosthodontists, plastic surgeons, and otolaryngologists may be consulted for specific needs when indicated. If this is necessary, the reasons will be explained to you and the specialist will be contacted.

Potential Risks and Complications Associated With Surgery

As with any type of surgical treatment, certain risks must be considered and these should be weighed against the potential benefits. We would not recommend an operation to you if we did not feel strongly that the benefits far outweigh any risks associated with surgery. However, it is important for you to understand that the risks and side effects associated with orthognathic surgery may include the following:

  • Discomfort/postoperative pain as a result of the surgery itself
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding – Since most jaw surgery is performed through incisions inside the mouth, it is impossible to put a dressing over this area. After surgery some bleeding occurs, just as when teeth are taken out.
  • Infections with jaw surgery are rare, generally easy to treat, and usually resolved quickly. However, infection may result in more severe consequences such as improper healing and the need for further surgery.
  • Damage to normal structures such as gum tissue, bone, or teeth, though this type of problem is extremely rare
  • Numbness or decreased sensation after surgery – Since jaw surgery is performed to the face, bruising of these nerves sometimes results in some decrease feeling in certain parts of the face. In the case of upper jaw surgery this usually occurs around the nose and upper lip. In lower jaw surgery this occurs around the lower lip and chin. While this may feel strange in the immediate post operative period, this numbness also helps decrease the amount of pain which you will feel after surgery. This decreased feeling is usually temporary. However, in a few patients there may be some permanent loss of feeling.
  • Risks associated with anesthesia – General anesthesia is very safe particularly in elective surgery cases such as orthognathic surgery. The anesthesiologist will discuss all aspects of your anesthetic care prior to your surgery.

Recovery after Surgery

The speed of surgical recovery depends on several factors including age and the extent of surgery. After the surgical procedure you can expect the following during your recovery:

Jaw Movement

Most patients undergoing orthognathic surgery will not have their jaws wired together. This will allow some immediate postoperative jaw function. Light elastics (rubber bands) will be used to help your jaw function into a new bite relationship. Over the first two or three weeks you will see significant improvement in jaw movement. Since the jaws are not wired together this makes it easier to speak, drink, eat, and perform oral hygiene.


For the first few days immediately after surgery, your diet will be a very soft or liquid diet. Approximately seven days to two weeks after surgery your diet will consist of foods such as chopped spaghetti, scrambled eggs, or other soft foods which can be eaten without extensive chewing. At two to six weeks after surgery your diet will progress to foods such as ground beef, small pieces of very soft meat such as flaky fish, and other foods which require some chewing. In most cases your diet will be near normal after six weeks.

Physical Activity

You should limit your activity for four to five days. This usually means staying around the house with minimal activity. At about one week after surgery you may be able to return to some limited activity such as slightly restricted work activity, some school activity, and easy leisure activity. For some patients this may be delayed for up to two weeks depending on the type of surgery and how quickly you recover after surgery.

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