What are the potential risks of jaw surgery?

Surgery of any kind should not be taken lightly. There are some specific risks related to jaw surgery which we would discuss with you in detail prior to commencing any treatment plan. Below are some of the more common and serious risks that you will need to consider and discuss with us.

Is jaw surgery right for me?

Surgical Procedures

Nerve injury

The face has a very complex anatomy and there are a number of nerves that are of concern to us during your treatment. Most significant of these is the Inferior Alveolar Nerve which travels along the jawbone near to where a lower jaw osteotomy is made. This nerve is susceptible to bruising or injury during the operation. As a result of this, patients who undergo lower jaw surgery tend to notice a numb area on their lip and chin after surgery. In the majority of cases, the nerve recovers over a period of months and sensation returns to normal. However in approximately 25% of patients, some alteration of sensation persists over time. Whilst this does not affect the way a patient looks or the way the lip moves, it can take some time to become accustomed to. We will discuss and explain this risk with you and outline the options for surgery that minimise risk in your individual case.

The Lingual Nerve (nerve to the tongue) can also be bruised during lower jaw surgery. The risk of this is considerably lower at less than 1% of cases sustaining long term numbness or altered taste to the tongue.

In upper jaw surgery, there is a risk of developing numbness to the upper lip or palate. The upper lip usually regains full sensation after a few weeks and rarely has long term sensory change ( less than 1%). The palate sensation is commonly altered after upper jaw surgery but patients tend not to notice this or complain that it affects their quality of life.


Any jaw surgery carries with it a risk of bleeding during the surgery. This risk in a fit and healthy patient is very low. The chance of a patient requiring a blood transfusion during the surgery is less than 1 in 1000.




Bad splits

The surgery to move a patient’s jaw is usually extremely reliable. However, in approximately 1 in 100 cases, the break ( split) of the lower jaw can proceed in a manner that is undesirable. In the majority of cases, we can proceed with the jaw surgery as planned and repair the split using plates and screws. In very rare cases, we may need to wire the patient’s jaw shut for a period of weeks to allow the healing to occur. This will not usually affect the long term outcome of the surgery in terms of profile and bite.

In the upper jaw an extremely rare complication of a bad split can lead to loss of vision. This has only been described worldwide in a handful of cases.


Relapse is a phenomenon whereby a patient’s teeth and jaws can try to revert back to their original position after completing treatment. The risk of this occurring can be reduced by good preoperative treatment planning and execution of the surgery, and the patient wearing a retainer after removal of their braces.

The risk varies from individual to individual based upon a number of factors. Your risk profile will be discussed with you at your consultation. In some cases, the risk of relapse is sufficiently high that we may recommend against any treatment.

Altered appearance/profile

Jaw surgery will change the appearance of the patient. In the vast majority of cases, this movement will improve the profile, and generally leads to high postoperative satisfaction. It is important that these changes are discussed with the patient with regards to their individual treatment plan. We will be able to outline what changes can be anticipated and give options to the patient to ensure they are pleased with the results.