Impact of Recessed Jaw and Overbite (Retrognathia)

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Mandibular retrognathia is the condition of having a visibly recessed chin and overbite. It is a common condition that can affect more than just a person's self-image. In some cases, it can lead to:

A dentist holding a model of an overbite
Horsche / Getty Images

Some people might remember when in 1983 the comedian and actress Carol Burnett underwent jaw surgery to correct her visibly recessed chin, which she considered problematic.

Retrognathia Symptoms

Retrognathia is when the lower jaw (mandible) is set back from the upper jaw (maxilla). It doesn't necessarily mean that the mandible is small, just that it appears recessed when the face is viewed in profile.

Retrognathia is often referred to as an "overbite." The feature is not considered abnormal or unattractive and is generally proportionate to the rest of the face.

When the jawbone is abnormally small and out of proportion to the face, the person is said to have micrognathia, a condition that can cause serious health concerns, including difficulty breathing and feeding.


The anatomical structure of the face is based, at least in part, on a person's genetics. So, people with retrognathia will often have a jaw structure similar to that of other family members. (Burnett herself referred to her overbite as the "Burnett family lip.")

Rare genetic conditions also can cause severe malformations of the jaw, including Pierre-Robin sequence, a disorder characterized by an abnormally small mandible and associated breathing problems.

Facial trauma in early childhood development can also cause jaw displacement, often resulting in an asymmetrical, "set back" appearance.


Retrognathia may cause problems from as early as birth, with some babies unable to adequately to properly latch onto a nipple when feeding.

As the person gets older, misalignment of the teeth may affect the ability to bite or chew food, If the lower jaw is smaller, the teeth may also become crowded or irregularly positioned.

These features can contribute to a disorder known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), an often painful condition characterized by muscle spasms and tension in the jaw. Retrognathia can also cause disrupted breathing, especially during sleep or when lying on one's back.

Snoring and sleep apnea are not uncommon in people with retrognathia, caused when the recessed position of the jaw allows the tongue to slip back toward the airway. This can lead to abnormal gaps in breathing as well as gasping and choking.


Depending on the severity of retrognathia, treatment may or may not be necessary.

If identified in early childhood, orthodontic treatments that may be effective in minimizing the recessed appearance of the jaw. One method involves the use of special headgear to slow the growth of maxilla (upper jaw) so the upper and lower jaws can become better aligned.


Click Play to Learn About Treating Recessed Jaws

This video has been medically reviewed by Oluseun Olufade, MD.

In late adolescence or adulthood, once growth is completed, a surgical procedure known as maxillomandibular advancement (MMA) can be used to move both jaws forward. The advantage of this technique is that braces aren't needed to realign the teeth.

By contrast, Burnett's surgery employed mandible osteotomy in which the jaw is actually detached and moved forward in a single unit.

The main downside to the surgery for retrognathia is the price—anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 and sometimes even higher. Elective procedures like these are typically not covered by insurance.

If retrognathia is causing sleep apnea, standard treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or an oral appliance will typically help.

TMJ, by contrast, is often more difficult to treat and may involve anti-inflammatory drugs, ice packs, massage, relaxation techniques, and the avoidance of excessive grinding or chewing. Oral appliances (known as dental splints or bite plates) are also available to treat more severe cases.

If ever you feel concerned about the health impact of your jaw positioning, speak with a doctor or dentist who may be able to offer advice on both surgical and non-surgical treatment options.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Joshi N, Hamdan A, Fakhouri W. Skeletal malocclusion: A developmental disorder with a life-long morbidity. J Clin Med Res. 2014; 6(6):399-408. doi:10.14740/jocmr1905w

  2. National Institutes of Health, Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Pierre Robin sequence.

  3. Feeding Matters. Feeding infants with recessed jaw or retrognathia at breast or with bottle.

  4. Tomonari H, Takada H, Hamada T, Kwon S, Sugiura T, Miyawaki S. Micrognathia with temporomandibular joint ankylosis and obstructive sleep apnea treated with mandibular distraction osteogenesis using skeletal anchorage: a case report. Head Face Med. 2017;13(1):20. Published 2017 Nov 10. doi:10.1186/s13005-017-0150-4

  5. Al-Hashmi A, Al-Saadi N. Surgical correction of mandibular retrognathia as a treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders. Oral Maxillo Surg. 2015; 44(Suppl 1):e25. doi:10.1016/j.ijom.2015.08.437

  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine, StatPearls. Retrognathia.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.