There are a wide range of reasons why people consider jaw surgery. On a functional level, if your teeth do not align properly, you have symptoms of TMJ disease, or sleep apnea, jaw surgery may be a good reconstructive option. On a cosmetic level, if you have a “weak” chin, a chin that is too prominent, a “gummy” smile or an asymmetric jawline, jaw surgery can also help.
Jaw surgery is a highly complex surgical procedure that will have a lasting effect on both aesthetic and functional aspects of your lower face. For this reason it is essential to choose a jaw surgeon with extensive experience, and to weigh all of your options carefully before choosing surgery.
While there are numerous questions you should ask before choosing to have jaw surgery, these 5 questions are some of the most important.
What Type of Jaw Surgery Do I Need?
There is not a single “jaw surgery” procedure but instead a wide range of techniques that a surgeon might use to help a patient with his or her functional or aesthetic concern. Surgery may focus on the upper or lower jaw (or both), the chin, or the area where the jaw connects to the skull. Even when focusing just on the lower jaw, for instance, the surgery may involve widening the jaw, moving its placement forward or backward, adjusting the joint where it connects to the skull, or reshaping one or both sides of the jaw to create improved symmetry.
The only way to know what type of orthognathic procedure will be best for your goals is to have a consultation with a skilled plastic surgeon who can thoroughly evaluate your existing anatomy and provide recommendations based on the outcomes you would like to see..
What Are Your Qualifications to Perform Jaw Surgery?
Unlike some purely cosmetic procedures, jaw surgery requires an extensive knowledge of the physical anatomy of the face. Many jaw surgeons place an emphasis on the alignment of the teeth, but more skilled surgeons are also able to focus on optimizing your overall facial balance and appearance when planning surgery. Planning for this type of surgery is particularly important, and surgeons who use extensive medical modeling and imaging (3D imaging, X-rays and photos) can provide better results for patients.
In terms of training and experience, look for a surgeon who has received specialized training in craniofacial plastic surgery, and orthognathic surgery in particular. Ask who the surgeon trained with and how long this additional training took to complete. Also ask if they have contributed to the field through presentations at medical conferences and peer-reviewed journal articles.
How Do I Prepare for Surgery and Recovery?
Before surgery, there is not much patients need to do. You may need to get certain lab tests or additional evaluations from your primary care doctor or a specialist. You also may be asked to adjust current medications or begin taking others. And of course if you are a smoker, you will need to stop the habit (hopefully permanently) a few weeks before surgery.
Generally you will spend 1 to 2 nights in the hospital following surgery so that your healing can be monitored. Because you will be placed under general anesthesia to sleep comfortably through your procedure, you will need to arrange a ride to and from the surgical suite from a friend or family member. You will also need someone to stay with you at minimum the first night after you are released from the hospital. Set up a comfortable spot where you can sleep with your head elevated and have easy access to essential items and medications. Closely follow any pre- or post-operative care instructions you receive.
Jaw surgery procedures require time to recover, so be patient. Bruising and swelling are common for the first few days. A modified diet of soft foods will continue for several weeks. We usually suggest 1 to 2 weeks off of work, with patients planning to be largely back to their normal routine after about a month.
What Are the Possible Risks and Complications?
All surgery carries some risk. Like any surgery, there is a risk of bleeding, swelling, infection and scarring. And since you will be under general anesthesia, there is a risk of side effects during or following anesthesia being administered.
Specific to this procedure, improper healing of the jawbone, jaw joint problems, numbness in the lower face, and limited movement of the jaw may occur. It is also possible that the original problem that caused you to seek jaw surgery reoccurs.
It is important to be on the lookout for signs of complications post-surgery. The earlier a potential problem is identified, the more options there will be to address it. While most of these risks have a very low chance of occurring, any reputable plastic surgeon will fully discuss the risks with you during your consultation. After reviewing all the possible complications, it will be up to you to determine if the benefits of orthognathic surgery outweigh the potential risks for you.
What If I Decide Against Surgery?
It may seem scary to think about going under anesthesia, having adjustments made to a rather sensitive part of your face, and spending several weeks recovering. And you also may be concerned about the cost of jaw surgery. But there’s also a risk that, if you are considering jaw surgery to address a functional concern, your problem could worsen. Potential complications of jaw or teeth misalignment can include excessive tooth wear or other significant dental problems, severe headaches, problems with speech, and more severe jaw disorders.
Jaw disorders can contribute to sleep problems as well. Without jaw surgery, the size and shape of the airway between your nose and throat may be inadequate, leading to issues like sleep apnea and snoring. During your jaw surgery consultation, find out what the health consequences might be if you choose not to have surgery.
An engineer before becoming a plastic surgeon, Dr. Navid Pourtaheri has a leg up when it comes to problem solving and surgical planning with the latest technology. He trained with several world experts in the field of plastic and craniomaxillofacial surgery, which sets him apart from anyone else in the Bay Area. As a plastic surgeon with an aesthetically-trained eye, he is committed to providing results that optimize function AND esthetics.