Do I Have a Crooked Jaw?

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When there’s a mismatch or misalignment between your upper jaw bone (or maxilla) and the lower one (mandible), you have an uneven jaw. This can arise due to everything from disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and trauma to dental issues, such as malocclusion.

Crooked jaw varies in severity, with those with more serious cases having symptoms like an asymmetrical face, pain in the temples, ear-popping, and problems chewing. Treatments include using orthodontics, surgery, as well as symptom management.

This article covers the basics of an uneven jaw, including what causes the condition, its symptoms, as well as how it’s taken on. 

Hand of dentist holding a dental gypsum model

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Causes of a Crooked Jaw

Broadly speaking, crooked jaw is caused by birth defects (congenital), issues as the teeth and jaw develop (developmental), or due to trauma or accidents (acquired). Here’s a quick breakdown.

TMJ Disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge that connects the maxilla and mandible. TMJ disorders (often simply called "TMJs" or "TMDs") are a common cause of crooked jaw. They occur when there are problems either with the joint itself or the surrounding muscles or ligaments. Leading to inflammation, pain, and other symptoms, TMJ issues can be caused by:

Symptoms of TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Jaw and tooth pain
  • Headaches and earaches
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Inability to open your mouth wide
  • Locking of the jaw when open or closed
  • Popping or clicking when chewing or moving your mouth
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Facial swelling
  • Misalignment of the upper and lower jaw

Trauma

Crooked jaw can also arise due to falls or accidents. For instance, healing can be uneven following a fracture of the mandible or maxilla, undermining their alignment. This type of uneven jaw can arise in those of any age, though people with osteoporosis or low bone density are more likely to experience lasting damage. This is why doctors employ extra monitoring and care as you recover from a broken bone or traumatic injury.

Birth Defect

Many cases of an uneven jaw can be attributed to birth defects affecting the symmetry of the face. This congenital issue, termed “hemifacial microsomia,” most commonly affects the jawbones. It leads to irregularities on one side of the face (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). Varying in severity, this can cause: canted teeth (slanted when compared to the nose and mouth), chin pointed off to one side, and other asymmetries in the lower side of the face.

Severe cases, especially if they’re bilateral and untreated, can lead to obstructive sleep apnea (snoring and sleep disruption) and Pierre Robin syndrome (a severe under formation of the mandible at birth). Additionally, a crooked jaw is associated with cleft palate and lip, which are birth defects.

Teeth Misalignment

Malocclusion—the misalignment and mismatch between the upper and lower sets of teeth—can also be a cause of crooked jaw. Many factors can cause crooked teeth, including:

  • Inherited tooth crookedness
  • Thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, and pacifier use (after the age of 3)
  • Tooth loss, extra teeth, tooth impaction, or malformed teeth
  • Poor-fitting dental appliances, braces, filings, retainers, and fillings
  • Misalignment of jawbones following trauma or accident
  • Tumor development in the jaw

Types of Misalignment

Minor misalignment of the teeth is very common; in fact, almost everybody has at least some imperfection. However, most cases are minor and asymptomatic. Malocclusion is divided into three categories:

  • Class I (normal molar relationship): This is when your bite is correct, but there may be other alignment issues such as crowding, spacing, rotated teeth, anterior open bite, etc.
  • Class II: Frequently termed “overbite” or “retrognathism,” this is when the upper set of teeth significantly overlaps the lower one.
  • Class III: When the lower set of teeth are pushed forward and protrude in front of the upper set, you have type 3, also known as “underbite” or “prognathism.”

Uneven Jaw Symptoms

Depending on how severe it is, an uneven jaw can significantly impact the health of your gums, the muscles, and ligaments of the TMJ, bones, and teeth. Resembling other disorders of the jaw or mouth, the principal symptoms of a crooked jaw include:

  • Pain in the temples
  • Headaches and/or pain in the shoulders and back
  • Clicking, grinding, or pain in the jaw
  • Ringing, buzzing, or popping in the ears
  • Tightness and pain in the jaw

Additionally, a crooked jaw can affect the appearance of your face, leading to:

  • A gummy smile, in which the upper jaw is too low
  • Long face, characterized by an open bite and a stretched appearance to the face
  • Toothless smile, where the upper jaw is too small (severe underbite).

Lastly, a crooked jaw can cause a range of dental issues, including:

  • Tooth loss
  • Wearing or damage on tooth surfaces
  • Gum recession (where the gums pull back from the teeth, exposing more of the tooth than is typical)
  • Loose teeth
  • Damage to gums or surrounding tissues

Severe Misalignment

More severe cases of crooked jaw affect your ability to talk, chew, drink, and breathe. Furthermore, living with the condition can cause social stigmatization and impact mental health and sleep. This is an additional reason it’s critical to take on this issue.

Treating a Crooked Jaw

While minor misalignments of the jaw may not require special treatment, symptomatic and more severe cases do. The options range from surgery in the most severe cases, to the use of orthodontic appliances and working to manage pain and other symptoms.

Surgery

Generally reserved for more severe and advanced cases, surgery to correct uneven jaw is called “orthognathic surgery.” These aim to reshape the upper or lower jaw to properly line everything up. Several specifics are considered:

  • Maxillary osteotomy: Osteotomy is the surgical removal of bone. In this case, the surgeon focuses on the upper jaw (maxilla). The goal is to correct an overbite or open bite by creating space and repositioning this bone to line up with the mandible (lower jaw).  
  • Mandibular osteotomy: In cases of severe underbite, osteotomy may be performed on the mandible. The aim here is to reposition the lower jaw back so that it properly lines up with the maxilla.
  • Genioplasty: If the chin is too small or out of position, this surgery reshapes the mandible to realign the jaw and correct any crookedness.  

Following surgery, or in the case of jaw fracture, you may require temporary jaw wiring, or the use of pins to support the structure and help correct the misalignment.

Dental Appliances

In cases where the uneven jaw is due to malocclusion, orthodontics and wearing dental appliances can help correct the issue. Over time—typically 18 months to two years—the pressure put on the teeth and jaw promotes a healthier alignment. These approaches may include:

  • Splints: Splints are instruments worn on the upper or lower sets of teeth. These appliances aren’t removable and encourage proper alignment of the teeth.
  • Mouthguards: To help with TMJ and grinding—as well as to help reposition the jaw—you may need to wear a guard at night.
  • Braces: A cornerstone of orthodontic care, braces are brackets that gradually push teeth into proper alignment. Orthodontic headgear may be needed as well, as this can provide additional pressure on the jaw.
  • Retainers: Sets of clear aligners (such as Invisalign) or other types may be used to correct tooth alignment or support the work of braces.
  • Bridges: If missing teeth are at the root of the uneven jaw, false teeth attached to surrounding existing ones, dental bridges, can be used to correct the issue.

Dental Treatments

Dentists may also consider reshaping and resurfacing teeth to help correct the bite. In some cases, surgery to remove certain teeth can help with crowding.

Pain Management

Taking on the pain and inflammation associated with crooked jaw, especially when there’s a TMJ disorder, can be another important aspect of treating the condition. A range of methods—everything from making lifestyle changes to alternative therapies—can help:

  • Icing or heating: Applying an ice pack or warm towel to the temples or jaw for 10 minutes at a time can help with pain. This can be especially helpful when paired with jaw stretches shown to you by your provider. It can be done multiple times a day, as needed.
  • Eating soft foods: Chewing can be difficult and cause pain. Soft foods, such as steamed or boiled vegetables, yogurt, fish, soups, and mashed potatoes, can be less painful to eat. Steer clear of crunchy or tough-to-chew foods.   
  • Over-the-counter medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Motrin and Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and aspirin, take on inflammation and pain. These are all available over the counter.
  • Prescription medications: Your provider may indicate other drugs in more severe or hard-to-manage cases. Narcotic analgesics can be prescribed for pain, with muscle relaxers helpful to ease tension from teeth grinding. NSAIDs come in stronger, prescribed doses. Anti-anxiety drugs and low doses of certain anti-depressants can also help.
  • Careful movement: Be careful when yawning and avoid chewing excessively. Correcting head and neck posture can help, as can keeping your upper and lower teeth slightly separated as much as you can. Stretches and exercises as directed by your provider can also help with tension.
  • Relaxation methods: Meditation, mindfulness work, and other methods of promoting relaxation can help ease muscle pain and tension in the jaw. Breathing-oriented activities such as yoga can also help, as can activities like gardening or simply taking a bath.
  • Acupuncture: An alternative health modality with origins in Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture involves using specialized needles to stimulate specific points in the body. Research has shown that this can be effective in taking on chronic pain problems.

In difficult to manage and severe cases of TMJ pain, additional procedures to consider include:

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): A device delivers electrical impulses to nerve centers in the TMJ to basically scramble pain messaging.
  • Ultrasound: Using specialized sound waves, affected areas in the jaw are heated up to relieve pain and tenderness.
  • Trigger-point injection: Injections of pain medication or local anesthetic to specific points in the muscles surrounding the jaw (called “trigger points”) can also manage pain.
  • Radio wave therapy: Directed radio waves cause electrical stimulation within the TMJ, which stimulates blood circulation, easing symptoms.
  • Botox injections: Injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) to muscles around the jaw reduces inflammation there and causes them to decrease in size, which can help.

Summary

Uneven jaw occurs when the upper jaw, or maxilla, does not properly line up with the lower jaw, or mandible. This arises due to a range of factors, including misalignment of the teeth, disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connecting these bones, trauma, as well as birth defects.

Varying in severity, this condition causes pain in the temples and jaw, ear popping, and problems chewing or swallowing. It can also lead to tooth decay and loss and have a mental health impact.

Treatments for crooked jaw include wearing dental appliances, certain surgeries, as well as management of the associated inflammation and pain.

A Word From Verywell

While having a crooked jaw can be a real burden, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot that you can do to correct the issue. Orthodontics have shown a great deal of efficacy in taking on the issue, and surgeries have successfully helped countless patients with this issue.

What’s most important if you’re suffering from jaw pain, functional issues, or other symptoms, is that you get the help you need. Calling your healthcare provider can be the first step towards a healthier and more comfortable smile.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my jaw is misaligned?

    The chief signs of an uneven jaw are pain in the temples, popping or clicking of the jaw, tightness and pain in the jaw, and ringing in the ears. More severe cases severely disrupt your ability to chew and speak, cause tooth loss and decay, and impact the appearance of the face.

  • Is it bad if your jaw is crooked?

    The severity of uneven jaw can range a great deal, and a majority of people actually have at least slight disparities. Minor cases tend to be asymptomatic; however, if you’re experiencing symptoms of misalignment, you should seek medical care. This condition can impact your physical appearance, damage your teeth and gums, and cause mental health issues.

  • Can braces fix a crooked jaw?

    When the crooked jaw is caused by malocclusion, or misalignment of the teeth, braces can help fix the issue. They may work as a standalone treatment in some cases, or be used prior to surgery to correct the upper or lower jaw. Rubber bands or head-gear may also be necessary as part of this treatment, which takes an average of two years.

  • Can I fix a crooked jaw without surgery?

    While more severe, an uneven jaw can only be taken on surgically, the symptoms of more minor cases can be managed without surgery. Wearing dental appliances, such as nightguards, or orthodontics, like braces and retainers, effectively manage many cases. Medications for pain and inflammation, relaxation techniques, and avoiding excessive chewing are among other means that help with symptoms.

    For chronic jaw pain that’s resistant to treatment, your provider may consider non-surgical therapies that work to stimulate pain-signaling nerves, such as transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation (TENS) and radio wave therapy.

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12 Sources
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