Orthognathic Surgery Takes the Bite Out of Your Jaw or Teeth Problems

Has your doctor, dentist, or orthodontist recommended orthognathic surgery for your jaw problems? You’ll soon be smiling with the expert care of our oral and maxillofacial surgeons at North Carolina Specialty Hospital. But first, we can help you understand what orthognathic surgery is and how it can relieve you of your jaw or teeth issues.

Sink Your Teeth into Orthognathic Surgery with These Questions and Answers

A view over the shoulder of an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is looking at an image of jaw X-rays.

What is orthognathic surgery?

As your orthognathic surgeon may have explained, orthognathic surgery is jaw surgery to correct irregularities of the upper and lower jawbones and realign the jaw and teeth to improve how they work. It is also used for jaw fractures and other medical conditions.

Depending on the reason for the surgery, your orthodontist may work with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to coordinate the surgery and any pre- or post-surgery work, which may be extensive. In fact, jaw surgery is a long-term commitment. Many repairs take several years to come to fruition.

Why is orthognathic surgery needed?

Orthognathic surgery corrects or treats conditions including:

  • Adjusting crossbites, overbites, or underbites, which affect how your teeth fit together when your mouth is closed
  • Repairing congenital conditions such as a cleft palate
  • Treating sleep apnea (a condition where breathing stops and starts during sleep)
  • Treating temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, where the lower jaw connects to the skull
  • Removing cysts or tumors
  • Treating speech problems
  • Treating problems causing a lack of facial symmetry

What will I experience when I undergo orthognathic surgery?

First, months before the surgery, you will go through a lot of pre-work, including X-rays, CT scans, and molds of your teeth. Next, you and your doctors will discuss what your expectations are from the surgery: For instance, do you have an image in mind for your appearance afterward? Which health problem are you addressing? You’ll talk with your health-care providers throughout the process to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding your treatment and results.

Unlike many surgeries, orthognathic surgery is often part of a multi-month or multi-year plan developed in collaboration with an orthodontist. This is most often the case with patients suffering from bite problems. In preparation for the surgery, the orthodontist places braces on the teeth 12 to 18 months before the surgery to align the teeth.

After recovery from the surgery, you may still need to wear braces for a period of time to finish the alignment. Finally, once the braces are removed, you likely will be fitted with a retainer that should be worn thereafter to keep teeth aligned.

About the orthognathic surgery itself:

The surgery and recovery will depend on your condition. Your orthognathic surgeon will explain the details more fully, but in general:

  • You’ll be under general anesthesia for the surgery.
  • Surgery can last from two to five hours.
  • Some treatments, like arthrocentesis for TMJ, don’t remove bone but inject fluid to cushion the joint and relieve pain.
  • Teeth can be extracted in addition to cutting pieces from the upper and lower jawbones during surgery.
  • When work is done on the jaw, the surgeon usually makes incisions inside the mouth to remove bone. In some instances, incisions may be made on the outside. Scarring of the face should be minimal if that happens.
  • Plates and screws are generally used in jaw reconstruction to hold the pieces together.
  • A plastic splint is inserted to keep the jaw in its new position and train facial muscles to work.

What is recovery like after orthognathic surgery?

While the recovery depends on the seriousness of the surgery, in most instances:

  • You can expect to remain in the hospital for one to four days after the surgery.
  • You’ll be prescribed pain medication.
  • You’ll experience swelling and will be instructed to sleep with your head elevated.
  • You’ll use ice packs for the first 24 hours to help with the swelling.
  • You’ll be on a liquid diet for the first two to four weeks, progressing to soft foods when your doctor sees you’re ready.
  • Your health-care provider will remove the splint (if you have one) and any stitches at around eight weeks.
  • You can start with light exercises (such as walking) after a couple of weeks and may be able to return to school or work after several weeks. However, check with your health-care provider about when it’s safe to start heavier exercise.
  • You’ll continue to wear braces until your doctors say they aren’t needed, after which you’ll use a retainer.

Are you ready to talk to a North Carolina Specialty Hospital jaw surgeon about orthognathic surgery?

Our expert orthognathic surgeons provide the latest technologies in surgical intervention to correct and repair maxillofacial fractures, facial skeletal discrepancies, and orthodontic issues. You’ll also receive our dedicated patient-centric care in a state-of-the-art facility offering you every advantage. After all, we’ve been providing health care to North Carolinians since 1926. Bringing you the best care is our first priority—and you’ll see the difference from other health systems.

Jaw surgery is a big commitment. But when you’re ready, we’ll be ready for you. Meanwhile, you can read more about our oral and maxillofacial surgery here. Then, to request an appointment with one of our orthognathic surgeons, just start here. Or, contact us. We look forward to helping you smile again soon.

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