Jaw Lengthening Overview

Problems with the jaw cannot only affect your appearance, but also your ability to chew, speak, and even breathe, depending on severity. Lengthening the jaw can help alleviate these symptoms, as well as create a balanced and well-defined jawline.

The distraction osteogenesis technique allows for a gradual lengthening using a device called a distractor. This device mobilizes and slowly moves the jawbone progressively outward to address a small or recessed jaw that results from congenital problems, underdevelopment, or an injury. This approach allows for bigger corrections in a bone position that might be possible through orthognathic surgery alone.

Planning and Recovery

What to Expect

You and your doctor will discuss in detail your concerns, anticipated results, and how the procedure will be performed.

On the day of the procedure, you’ll receive anesthesia through an IV. Your doctor will cut the jawbone, inserting the distractor device between the two pieces of bone. Small pins pass through the skin that will enable adjustments after the surgery, either near the chin or behind the jaw line.

 

After Surgery to Place the Device

For a few weeks after surgery, you will turn pins on the distractor a small amount. New bone will grow in the gap created, healing and hardening over time. You will follow up with your surgeon to ensure the device is working properly and decide when to stop turning the device. Once the jaw is in the correct position, and new bone stabilizes, the distractor will be removed.

Following surgery, you may experience numbness in your lower lip, chin, and gums, which generally improves in a few months, but may take up to 18 months to resolve.

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Frequently Asked Questions

You may be a good candidate if:

  • You’re physically healthy
  • Your expectations are realistic
  • You understand the risks that come along with surgery
  • You’re unhappy with the appearance of your jaw or have structural issues from trauma, underdevelopment, or congenital defects
  • You have issues with crowded teeth, speech, breathing, or sleeping related to your jaw
  • Insurance coverage is available if your insurance carrier determines the procedure to be medically necessary to address deformities or functional problems.

    Most incisions will be made internally, with no visible scars. You will likely have a scar from where the pins from the distractor device pass through the skin, which will be very small and fade over time.

    Many patients are surprised that the process is much less painful than expected. People who have had braces describe the discomfort as similar to when braces are tightened. We will make every effort to minimize your discomfort.

    No, it’s not necessary to wire the jaw shut, as the distractor device keeps the jaw in the correct position.

    As with any surgery, jaw lengthening does pose some risks. These risks include:

  • Anesthesia complications
  • Bleeding
  • Damage to bone or gums
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Swelling
  • Insurance coverage is available if your insurance carrier determines the procedure to be medically necessary to address deformities or functional problems. Patients with jaw problems requiring jaw distraction are almost always covered by insurance.

    If you’re exploring options for insurance coverage, you may need to request a referral from your primary care doctor, depending on your health insurance plan. Check with your carrier to see if medical coverage is an option for you and, if so, whether a referral is required.

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