Ask the dentist: Surgical solution fixes faces

This week, Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast explores how surgical techniques developed to treat soldiers injured in the Second World War continue to transform lives today

It's no surprise that discrepancies in jaw size can get to people and unfortunately even result in that person being bullied.

THE size and position of the jaw bones massively impacts on the appearance of a face.

If one or both of the jaws is either excessively large or small then not only can this affect a persons self-confidence but there can also be practical problems too.

For instance if someone has a receding lower jaw, protruding chin or facial asymmetry then other functional things like swallowing, excessive tooth wear, snoring, or sleep apnea can be an issue.

With all the pressure on image from the media it's no surprise that discrepancies in jaw size can get to people and unfortunately even result in that person being bullied.

As an adult, if the facial bones are very out of alignment, often braces alone can't fix the problem. So, if someone isn't prepared to accept the hand that they've been dealt then jaw surgery may be the only solution.

Jaw surgery was developed after the Second World War for severely injured servicemen and its potential for cosmetic improvement realised later. An upper jaw protruding beyond the lower by as little as six millimetres can make a big difference to a face.

About 700 jaw operations are carried out yearly in Britain, with NHS funding determined by a points-based system which rates dental health and aesthetic need.

Corrective jaw surgery known as orthognathic surgery is performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon (OMS) normally under general anaesthetic. An OMS is uniquely qualified in both dentistry and medicine.

During jaw surgery, the OMS makes cuts in the bone to reposition the jaw either in a forward or backward position. After the jaw is repositioned, tiny plates and screws hold the bone in the new position.

3D virtual computer images are used to accurately analysis and plan the treatment. This is also helpful in demonstrating what is involved to the patient.

It is usual for a patient going in for jaw surgery to wear braces before and after the operation. The final result can take several years.

Surgery can improve chewing, speaking and breathing as well as balancing the face, reducing a gummy or allowing the lips to close adequately.

As with any surgery, patients should be realistic about the outcomes, potential complications and how a change in facial appearance can have both a positive or negative effect psychologically.

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