Jaw deformities are a common condition, ranging from mild abnormalities to more severe defects that can be surgically corrected. In some instances, the upper or lower jaw — or both — may grow too little or too much, resulting in malocclusion, the improper alignment of the teeth in relation to the first molars.
Besides growth differences between your upper and lower jaws, jaw deformities may be caused by genetic factors, trauma and certain birth defects, such as cleft lip and cleft palate.
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Signs & symptoms
Jaw deformities can lead to problems with speaking, chewing, swallowing and breathing. The condition also may cause undue stress on your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and facial muscles, affecting the long-term health of your gums and teeth. Jaw deformities also may cause pain, degeneration and jaw clicking.
In addition, improper alignment of your jaws and teeth may affect the entire appearance of your face. Correcting your jaw deformity may greatly improve your facial aesthetic. You may have one of the following aesthetic problems due to your jaw deformity:
- Underbite or overbite, caused by malocclusion (the improper alignment of the teeth in relation to the first molars)
- "Gummy smile," in which your upper jaw has grown too far down
- "Long face syndrome," in which you have an open bite with a long-looking face
- "Toothless smile," in which your upper jaw is too small
When making a diagnosis of your jaw deformity, your oral and maxillofacial surgeon will first start by asking about your medical history and conducting a thorough physical and dental evaluation. This will include evaluating:
- The proportions of your face
- Functional problems and abnormalities related to your jaw and teeth
- Problems with dental hygiene, such as recession of gums
- Functional problems and abnormalities related to your air passageway, which may cause problems such as sleep apnea
In addition, imaging tests of your face, such as X-rays and scans, also may be recommended to assess potential treatment approaches.
Jaw deformities caused by unequal jaw growth can be surgically corrected. Treating your jaw deformity will eliminate or greatly reduce any problems related to your condition, such as chewing, breathing and speaking difficulties, as well as restore the aesthetic balance of your entire face.
Corrective jaw surgery involves moving all or part of the upper or lower jaw, or both, into a more balanced position. The majority of the surgery is performed inside the mouth without any external scarring. A hospital stay and recovery period may be necessary for more involved surgeries, while minor procedures can be performed on a same-day basis.
After the jaws are moved into their new position, rubber bands or wires attached to the teeth may be used to fasten the jaws together during healing. In other instances, miniature screws and plates are used to allow you to open and close your jaws sooner after corrective surgery.
Also, some people require orthodontic treatment, such as braces or other appliances, to align their teeth properly before corrective jaw surgery. In these cases, your oral and maxillofacial surgeon will work closely with an orthodontist to coordinate your care to prepare you for surgery.
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.