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Treating Prognathism: Ways to Correct Abnormal Jaw Alignment

If you've noticed that your child's jaw seems unaligned, perhaps because it looks like their upper or lower jaw is protruding, they may have something called prognathism. Known as the overdevelopment of the upper jaw's (maxilla) or lower jaw (mandible), this results in a mismatch where the jaws and teeth do not fit together correctly. At first, it may be frustrating for your child to feel they have a misaligned jawbone structure. But they should feel empowered after a conversation with their dental professional, who will help them understand the source of their prognathism as well as a course of treatment.

When prognathism affects the upper jaw, dental professionals may call it overjet, maxillary prognathism, or an overbite. If the lower jaw protrudes, it is commonly referred to as an underbite. A team made up of several dental professionals - your child's dentist, an orthodontist, and potentially, a maxillofacial surgeon, can manage and treat both issues.

Causes of Prognathism

Before considering if treatment is right for your child, you're probably wondering what the causes of prognathism are. Overdevelopment of either jaw may result from genetic differences or rare, underlying conditions. According to MedlinePlus, some of the conditions associated with prognathism include:

  • Crouzon syndrome. When this genetic condition occurs, the bones in your child's skull fuse prematurely, affecting their facial structure.
  • Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome. This syndrome involves a series of inherited genetic defects that affect the bones, skin, eyes, and nervous system.
  • Gigantism. This condition refers to accelerated childhood growth, especially height, caused by a hormonal imbalance.
  • Acromegaly. Like gigantism, this condition refers to excessive growth, but it doesn't appear until adulthood.

When to See a Dental Professional

Prognathism isn't always a problem. According to MedlinePlus, an extended jaw can be part of an individual's natural face shape from birth. But when a protruding jaw causes dental problems and pain, it's time to seek professional advice. You should take your child to their dental professional if you think their jaw shape may be causing them difficulty with chewing, biting, or talking. If a prognathic jaw becomes painful or interrupts normal activities, the problem won't correct itself.

Treatment

Treating a jaw problem often involves a general dentist, an orthodontist, and an oral surgeon. Your child's dental team may include a doctor if the cause of your child's jaw problem is related to a condition like Crouzon syndrome or gigantism. As noted by the American Association of Orthodontists, having your child see an orthodontist sooner rather than later can help them get the best course of treatment for an abnormal jaw alignment. They recommend your child see an orthodontist as early as seven years old. This is when your child's mouth has developed enough for a professional to look for signs of any issues.

Before beginning any prognathism treatment, your child's dental team will work together to ensure everyone is on the same page. Their communication is key to a successful outcome. Because your child will have a course of treatment tailored to their individual needs, don't be shy about asking questions. We know your child's health is your top priority, and it's normal to want to understand their treatment plan.

Besides completing a physical exam and asking about your child's medical history, dental professionals will also want to gather as much dental information as they can. This is usually done by getting a dental X-ray, skull X-ray, or bite imprint. Once they've determined the severity of your child's jaw misalignment, they will most likely recommend orthodontic appliances, such as braces or a mouthguard. Sometimes surgery may be recommended as well.

Orthognathic surgery is the standard form of surgery to move either the upper or lower jaw into proper alignment. Mayo Clinic notes this type of procedure is appropriate for children once their jaw growth stops, at about 14 to 16 years of age for females and 17 to 21 for males. Braces may be included before and after surgery to ensure proper alignment is achieved.

If your child experiences facial pain or has serious concerns about their jaw's appearance, it may be time to talk to their dental professional about treatment options. We know this can initially feel like a difficult conversation to have, but we believe that the more communication around a topic, the better! Helping your child feel confident in their smile while keeping it healthy is what matters most to you. That's why speaking with a dental professional will help put your mind at ease. They'll help you determine the best course of action for achieving the results you and your child are looking for!

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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