Jaw Surgery (Orthognathic Surgery)

Corrective Jaw Surgery

Corrective jaw, or orthognathic, surgery is performed to correct a wide range of minor and major skeletal and dental irregularities, including the malalignment of jaws and teeth, which, in turn, can improve chewing, speaking and breathing. While the patient's appearance may be dramatically enhanced as a result of their surgery, orthognathic surgery is performed to correct functional problems, and not for cosmetic purposes.

Following are some of the conditions that may indicate the need for corrective jaw surgery:

  • difficulty chewing, or biting food
  • difficulty swallowing
  • chronic jaw or jaw joint (TMJ) pain and headache
  • excessive wear of the teeth
  • open bite (space between the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed)
  • unbalanced facial appearance from the front, or side
  • facial injury or birth defects
  • receding chin
  • protruding jaw
  • inability to make the lips meet without straining
  • chronic mouth breathing and dry mouth
  • sleep apnea (breathing problems when sleeping, including snoring)

Who Needs Corrective Jaw Surgery?

People who may benefit from corrective jaw surgery include those with an improper bite resulting from misaligned teeth and/or jaws. In some cases, the upper and lower jaws may grow at different rates. Injuries and birth defects may also affect jaw alignment. While orthodontics can usually correct bite, or "occlusion," problems when only the teeth are misaligned, corrective jaw surgery may be necessary to correct malalignment of the jaws.

Do I need Jaw Surgery?

To answer this question, Dr. Kahenasa will perform a comprehensive consultion with you to evaluate your dental and skeletal discrepancies and treatment options. Dr. Kahenasa will also work closely with your orthodontist to determine your treatment plan. It is important to understand that your full treatment, which will probably include orthodontics before and after surgery, may take a few years to complete. Although it is a big commitment for you and your family, the long term benefits will hopefully be worthwhile.

Patients may have common jaw abnormalities such as an open bite (a),  protruded lower jaw (b), or retruded lower jaw (c):

What Is Involved in Corrective Jaw Surgery?

Before your surgery, orthodontic braces move the teeth into a new position. Because your teeth are being moved into a position that will fit together AFTER surgery, you may at first think your bite is getting worse rather than better. Once your jaw is repositioned during surgery, your teeth should fit together properly. Some fine-tuning with orthodontic treatment will be necessary to obtain the most ideal  result after surgery.

Once your pre-surgical orthodontic treatment nears completion, updated records, including x-rays, pictures and models of your teeth, will be taken to help guide your surgery. Surgery is performed by Dr. Kahenasa at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Surgery may take several hours to complete and most patients stay in the hospital for one night.

During surgery under general anesthesia, Dr. Kahenasa will reposition the jawbones in accordance with your specific needs. In some cases, bone may be added, taken away or reshaped. Surgical plates, screws (see diagram below) wires and rubber bands may be used to hold your jaws in their new positions. Incisions are usually made inside the mouth to reduce visible scarring; however, some cases do require small incisions outside of the mouth. When this is necessary, care is taken to minimize their appearance.


After surgery, Dr. Kahenasa will provide instructions for a modified diet, which will include puree and liquids, as well as a schedule for transitioning to a normal diet. It is quite important to refrain from smoking and avoid strenuous physical activity for a period of time after surgery.

Pain following corrective jaw surgery is easily controlled with medication and patients are generally able to return to work or school from one to three weeks after surgery, depending on how they are feeling. While the initial healing phase is six to eight weeks, complete healing of the jaws takes between nine and 12 months.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Kahenasa regarding your jaw surgery, please contact her using the information on the "practice locations" link.