In general, healthcare professionals prefer to use non-invasive methods to alleviate obstructive sleep apnea in patients, such as CPAP machines and mouth guards. However, severe conditions may require surgery to fix, and orthognathic jaw surgery appears to be one that's relatively effective. Here's more information about this procedure to help you decide if it's right for you.
Extensive Oral Reconstruction
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when oral structures collapse into the airway, cutting off breathing. There are several ways this can happen. Sometimes the tongue will fall back into the throat or enlarged tonsils will get in the way. Some people simply have too much tissue at the back of their throats that fold into airway, while for others the tissue is too weak to support itself.
Orthognathic jaw surgery seeks to correct an issue where the jaw itself is positioned in such a way that it either falls backward and obstructs the airway or shortens the airway space and makes it easier for other oral structures to block it. The procedure involves making cuts into the jaw, pulling it forward, and screwing it back in place. This expands the size of the airway and reduces the chances the jaw will obstruct it.
However, the process often involves several different but complementary procedures to stop the airway obstruction, depending on what is causing or contributing to the problem. For instance, if crowded or misaligned teeth have caused the jaw to sit in the mouth in an irregular way, you may be referred to an orthodontist for treatment to straighten the teeth before undergoing surgery. If the jaw bone has deteriorated, the surgeon may perform a graft first to help restore it.
The dentist or surgeon will typically do a full evaluation to determine exactly what needs to be done to fix the problem.
Benefits of Orthognathic Jaw Surgery
Orthognathic jaw surgery is actually very effective at treating severe obstructive sleep apnea. Patients who have undergone the procedure experienced a 90 percent reduction in AHIs (the number of disturbances they experience per hour). It can be used on patients of any age, but healthcare providers prefer to wait until a person reaches young adulthood (e.g. age 18) because the jaw is usually fully developed by that time.
A side benefit of this surgery is it can have an anti-aging effect. People with this type of jaw deformity typically have receding chins. This can result in an unpleasing profile and lead to issues such as the early formation of lines and wrinkles. The surgery pulls the jaw forward, which creates a more defined chin and helps smooth out loose skin. The result is often a more aesthetically pleasing face.
Drawbacks of Orthognathic Jaw Surgery
Like with any treatment, there are drawbacks. This is a major surgery that typically requires anesthesia. There generally aren't complications, but people have reported experiencing numbness in the lips, chin, and cheeks. Although this is usually temporary, it has been a permanent side effect in about 15 percent of cases.
Healing time can take several months, and you will be restricted to a liquid diet until your jaw heals because you don't be able to open it very far due to mechanical issues and stitches. If you have a health condition that requires you to be strict about what you eat (e.g. diabetes), you need to consult with your healthcare provider or a nutritionist to develop a diet that will provide you with everything you need during the months you can't eat solid food. Additionally, you'll need to develop an alternative oral care routine to minimize formation of cavities and other damage to your teeth and gums.
The good news is the is surgery is typically covered by dental or health insurance since it's addressing a medical problem, so you won't have to pay much—if anything—out of your own pocket.
For more information about orthognathic jaw surgery, contact a dentist or oral surgeon through resources like Central PA Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons LLC.