How to Fix a Misaligned or Crooked Jaw

Clinical Content Reviewed by Byte Licensed DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Key Facts
  2. Misaligned Jaw Appearance
  3. What Causes a Crooked Jaw?
  4. Treatment Options
  5. Is Treatment Mandatory?
  6. Aligners for Mild Cases
  7. Misaligned Jaw FAQs
  8. References

A misaligned or crooked jaw can affect one’s appearance, self-esteem, and oral and overall health. Jaw issues are a common cause of malocclusion, or teeth misalignment. Jaw misalignment may be a factor in malocclusion conditions that include underbite, overbite, crossbite, and open bite. 

Most cases of jaw misalignment are caused by genetics. Other causes may include injury, congenital conditions, developmental problems, TMJ and tooth grinding, missing teeth, and childhood oral habits like pacifier use and thumb sucking. 

Treatment for a misaligned jaw may include lost tooth replacement, braces, orthodontic devices like headgear and palatal expanders, and jaw (orthognathic) surgery. For the treatment of mild-to-moderate jaw misalignment and related malocclusion, clear removable aligners may also be a convenient option.

Key Facts about a Misaligned Jaw

  • A misaligned jaw occurs when the upper and lower jaw don’t line up to a correct bite when closed. This can cause (or be caused by) malocclusion, or teeth misalignment. Conditions related to a misaligned jaw include overbite, underbite, crossbite, and open bite.

  • Jaw misalignment is usually diagnosed and treated by an orthodontist. In severe cases, a jaw specialist or surgeon may be needed.

  • Jaw misalignment can lead to health problems that include tooth decay, gum disease, jaw pain, TMJ, sleep disorders, headaches, and difficulty speaking and eating. A crooked jaw can also lower self-esteem and affect mental health. 

  • Jaw misalignment may be treated with surgery, orthodontic devices like headgear and palatal expanders, braces, or clear aligners.

What does a Misaligned Jaw Look Like?

How a misaligned jaw looks will vary greatly depending on the type of jaw misalignment and how severe the problem is. 

Some cases of crooked jaw are very minor and not noticeable. Others are very prominent and have a serious impact on appearance. 

In some cases, the upper jaw sits too far forward of the lower jaw. This is often related to overbite malocclusion conditions (class 2 malocclusions), including “buck teeth” or overjet teeth, in which the front teeth seem to protrude out over the lower teeth.

When the lower jaw juts in front of the upper jaw, it may be related to underbite malocclusions (class 3 malocclusions), in which the lower teeth and jaw overlap the upper teeth and jaw.

What Causes a Crooked Jaw?

Many jaw conditions are hereditary. Most cases of crooked jaw are simply due to genetics.

Jaw misalignment can also be caused by the following:

  • Injury or trauma to the mouth, teeth, or jaw

  • Prolonged thumb sucking or pacifier use as a child, especially if continued after permanent teeth came in

  • Teeth grinding

  • Tongue thrusting

  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders

  • Missing teeth that have caused remaining teeth to shift

  • Congenital problems

  • Developmental disorders

Treatment for a Misaligned Jaw Varies by Age

Treatment for a misaligned jaw may be very different for children than it is for adults.

Children and adolescents have jaws that are still developing. Therefore, their jaws are easier to influence with orthodontic devices and appliances.

Adults have developed (formed) jaws. Orthodontic devices may still be used in treatment, but they may be less effective and take longer.

When dealing with the still-forming jaws of children and adolescents, orthodontists may try to change the course of jaw development in order to correct a problematic bite. Devices like retainers, headgear (a banded device with wiring inside and outside of the mouth), and palatal expanders (which sit on the roof of the mouth and are expanded to widen the jaw) may be used. Retainers and palatal expanders may even be fixed to the mouth for maximum effectiveness.

Braces and aligners are also used to correct jaw issues and their related teeth misalignment. In severe cases, jaw surgery may be required.

Because the jaws of adults are already formed and harder to manipulate, orthodontic devices and appliances are less likely to be effective in treating very severe cases of jaw misalignment. Orthognathic (jaw) surgery may be the only option in these cases.

For less severe cases, braces and clear aligners may be used to correct a jaw misalignment.

For braces, brackets are cemented to the teeth and connected by wires. These wires are periodically tightened to apply pressure to reposition the teeth and jaw.

Orthodontic devices like palatal expanders are sometimes used along with braces.

Clear aligners also apply pressure to move the teeth and jaw into place, but they do it in a different way. Rather than being fixed to the teeth, aligners are removable, and they fit over teeth. They mimic your current bite but include subtle pressure points and changes that will shift your teeth. 

With aligner treatment, you’ll transition through a series of aligner trays, wearing each one for a week or two before moving on to the next. Each tray gradually moves you closer to your ideal alignment. After your last tray, your smile will be ready.

Is Treatment Mandatory?

An orthodontist will be able to tell you how severe your jaw misalignment is and how imperative treatment is. However, it’s important to remember that any jaw misalignment could lead to teeth misalignment and jaw strain. If left untreated, the problem may only get worse and harder to correct.

Aligners: A Great Option for Mild Cases

For mild-to-moderate cases of jaw misalignment, clear aligners may have many advantages over other types of treatment. Aligners are virtually invisible and removable, so they can be taken out to eat and perform your daily oral hygiene routine. Most aligners work faster than braces, with an average treatment time of 4–6 months.

Misaligned Jaw Frequently Asked Questions

Depending on how severe your jaw misalignment is, treatment options may include surgery, orthodontic appliances, braces, or aligners. If your misalignment is mild or moderate, you can take Byte’s 30-second assessment or order an at-home impression kit to find out if aligners would work for you (if you’re not a candidate for aligners, Byte will refund you).

Most misaligned jaws are caused by genetics and cannot be prevented. Sometimes misaligned jaws are caused by other issues, including teeth grinding, childhood thumb sucking and pacifier use, trauma and injury, teeth misalignment, missing teeth, congenital problems, and developmental issues.

In many cases, a misaligned jaw is visible. The upper jaw may appear to sit too far in front of the lower teeth, or the lower jaw may protrude forward. Other symptoms may include jaw pain, crooked or misaligned teeth, and speech and eating problems. A dentist will be able to identify a jaw misalignment and refer you to an orthodontist if needed.

In many cases, yes. While very serious cases of jaw misalignment will need surgery to be corrected, it’s more common that the condition can be treated with other treatments or a combination of other treatments, including tooth replacement, orthodontic devices, braces, and clear aligners.

While it’s possible that the jaw might correct itself over time, it’s not likely, and it’s less common in adulthood.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.