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The upper and lower jaws are meant to fit together evenly and painlessly. However, jaws can develop misaligned or uneven for several reasons. Injuries, childhood habits, and genetics can all misalign the jaw.
A misaligned jaw can cause pain and discomfort. It can also cause trouble with everyday activities, including talking, breathing, eating, and sleeping.
Corrective surgery may be necessary depending on your age and the severity of the misalignment. In other cases, orthodontic treatment and physical therapy should be enough to resolve the problem.
Many people have misaligned teeth or jaws that still fall within a normal, healthy range. Very few people, if any, have perfectly symmetrical faces, but a slight difference in the jawline is usually not noticeable.
A truly misaligned jaw is more likely to be visually noticeable and have other symptoms, such as:
A noticeably asymmetrical jawline may not present with any other symptoms. But it can still be a major cosmetic concern that affects a person’s quality of life.
There are several kinds of treatment for jaw misalignment, which may be combined as part of a comprehensive plan. Your specific treatment needs will depend on your age, the severity of your jaw issues, and your symptoms.
Because misaligned jaws often come along with crooked and/or crowded teeth, orthodontic (teeth-correcting) treatment can be an essential step. Orthodontic treatment methods include:
Braces can put enough pressure on teeth to correct severe misalignment.
Clear aligners are an excellent alternative for less severe cases, while more severe cases may require braces and headgear (in children) or corrective surgery (for adults).
Sometimes the asymmetry or mismatch in a person’s jaws can’t be treated without surgery. This is especially likely if the person is an adult.
Children and their bones are still growing, which helps with treatments involving orthodontic devices. Once someone is fully grown, orthodontic treatment can still help, but surgery may be necessary to correct the problem fully.
Orthognathic (jaw-correcting) surgery may include:
A dental professional may perform surgery on its own if a person’s jaw issues are primarily cosmetic. But in many cases, teeth misalignment and other issues are also involved. In these cases, the dental professional might combine surgery with orthodontics and other treatments to provide the most predictable results.
Physical therapy can treat certain jaw issues. This includes exercises to strengthen and increase the range of motion of your jaw. Massages and relaxation techniques may also help.
Your dentist, orthodontist, or oral surgeon may also recommend developing better habits to reinforce the results of your treatment. These may include:
Your dentist may advise you to avoid tough foods that strain your jaw. On the other hand, you might be encouraged to use chewing to strengthen your jaw muscles. Talk to your dentist or other professional about what to practice and avoid.
The cause of someone’s jaw misalignment may be (but isn’t always) genetic. Sometimes multiple causes are involved, such as:
A misaligned or asymmetrical jaw may be a birth defect. Sometimes it may be due to a random mutation or exposure to certain chemicals during pregnancy. In other cases, it’s a hereditary trait (passed from parent to child).
In other cases, genes may be only part of the cause. A child might not be born with a misaligned jaw but inherit traits that make a misaligned jaw more likely.
For example, a child with a narrow upper airway may develop a mouth-breathing habit. This could lead to poor jaw development (such as a skeletal open bite) as they age.4, 5
Sometimes a person’s upper and lower jaws don’t align because of a genetic condition that causes other symptoms. These conditions may be inherited or result from a random mutation.
For example, micrognathia can occur as part of Stickler syndrome or Treacher Collins syndrome (TCS).3 A protruding chin may also be a symptom of acromegaly or gigantism, which involve abnormal bone growth.6
Jaw misalignment may also occur in children born with a cleft lip and palate.
Certain repeated behaviors during childhood can affect jaw development. A child born with a standard jaw can still develop alignment problems as they grow.
Some habits that may lead to poor jaw development include:4, 5, 7
Altered or abnormal jaw alignment may have other causes, including:
Because an uneven jaw or TMJ problem can cause pain, it’s important to alleviate the strain on your jaw until you get proper treatment. This may mean:
While few people have perfectly even or symmetrical jaws, some have jaw misalignments that cause health problems or severely affect their self-image.
Misaligned jaws can result from genetics, childhood habits, injuries, and other factors. Fortunately, orthodontic treatment, surgery, and/or improved lifestyle habits can usually correct jaw misalignment.
Uneven jaws can be corrected with the right treatment. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons specialize in treating jaw issues. Orthodontic treatment can address any teeth alignment problems that may be involved.
A minor jawbone misalignment may fix itself. But in general, a skeletal (bone) imbalance needs deliberate dental care. Surgery, lifestyle changes, and/or orthodontic treatment may all be necessary.
Proper tongue posture, physical therapy, and massages may help with jaw problems. However, an underlying skeletal imbalance will require surgery for proper correction.
If you have a misaligned jaw and don’t receive treatment, the problem may worsen over time. Your facial and jaw muscles will compensate for what’s missing or out of balance, and you may end up with worn enamel, persistent pain, and trouble chewing and sleeping.
Nearly everyone has some degree of asymmetry in their face. If you created a mirror image of each side of someone’s face, you would notice a difference between the two sides.
Slight asymmetry usually isn’t serious. The human body is naturally slightly asymmetrical. People generally have one dominant hand, the right lung is generally wider and shorter than the left lung, and so on.
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