Just as orthodontics repositions teeth, surgical orthodontics (also known as orthognathic surgery) corrects jaw irregularities to improve the ability to chew, speak, and breathe, as well as to improve facial appearance. In simple terms, surgical orthodontics straightens the jaw. Moving the jaw also moves the teeth, so braces are always required prior to surgical jaw correction. This helps ensure that teeth are in the proper position after surgery.
Surgical orthodontics requires the involvement of both an oral surgeon and an orthodontist, working together as a team to ensure proper placement of the teeth prior to surgery. The team approach also ensures understanding and accommodation of the stress that facial muscles exert on new jaw relationships.
Who needs surgical orthodontics?
Individuals with a protruding or recessed upper or lower jaw and individuals suffering from sleep apnea (interrupted breathing during sleep) may be candidates for surgical orthodontics. An orthodontist will consider surgical orthodontic treatment for non-growing adult patients with improper bites and those with facial aesthetic concerns. Jaw growth is usually completed by age 16 for girls and 18 for boys. All growth must be completed before jaw surgery can be performed, although pre-surgical movement of the teeth can begin one to two years before cessation of growth.
What is the process?
The orthodontic part of the treatment can last 6 to 18 months. During that period, braces are worn and adjusted as needed. As the teeth move with the braces, you may think your bite is getting worse, rather than better. However, when the jaw is properly aligned during orthognathic surgery, the teeth will then fit into their proper positions.
Surgery is performed in the hospital with an oral surgeon, and can take several hours, depending on the amount and type of surgery needed. You should be able to return to school or work within two weeks after surgery. After four to eight weeks of healing, your orthodontist “fine-tunes” your bite by adjusting the braces. In most cases, braces are removed six to 12 months following surgery. After the braces are removed, a retainer is worn for at least two years to maintain your beautiful new smile.