Your skull is made up of 22 bones fused together. Your maxilla is the bone that makes up your upper jaw, cheeks, and the lower part of your eye sockets.

In medical terms, a recess means a space or cavity. A recessed maxilla is when your maxilla bone is set back or underdeveloped. This recession can create cosmetic issues like flat cheekbones and an overly prominent jaw. It can also lead to breathing obstructions and dental problems caused by a misaligned bite.

Keep reading to learn how you can identify a recessed upper jawbone. We’ll also look at the typical symptoms and treatment options.

Your maxilla makes up a large portion of the front of your face. A recession can lead to changes in your facial shape, the National Center for Biotechnology Information says, as well as your bite. These include:

  • malocclusion, or misaligned teeth
  • underbite
  • pronounced lower lip
  • thin upper lip
  • flat cheekbones
  • prominent nose

Misaligned teeth due to a recessed maxilla can cause symptoms such as:

The bone structure of your face is largely determined by genetic factors. A 2018 study looking at the facial shape of twins estimated that about 75 percent of the variance in facial shape is due to genetics. If you have a recessed maxilla, it’s likely that one of your parents had a recessed maxilla, too.

Recession can range from mild to severe. It may not be accompanied by any other medical issues. In some cases, underdevelopment of the maxilla may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Multiple syndromes and craniofacial conditions have recessed maxilla as a component.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders says that maxillofacial dysostosis is an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes underdevelopment of the maxilla and a downward slant of the eyelids. Fetal alcohol syndrome and Angelman syndrome are two other conditions that can lead to improper growth of the maxilla.

Facial trauma during childhood, while your face is still developing, can also lead to atypical growth of your maxilla as your bones continue to mature.

Once air enters your nose, it goes through one of three passageways called meatuses. Your maxilla makes up the base of the bottom of these three passageways.

Your recessed maxilla may be severe, as in the congenital condition Pierre Robin syndrome, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Based on a small 2018 study, a severe recessed maxilla can cause obstructed breathing when the tongue falls back and obstructs the airway. This can lead to severe sleep apnea from obstruction, especially when you’re lying on your back.

A small jaw can also lead to malocclusion of the upper and lower jaws. If the surfaces of your teeth are mismatched, you might change your chewing actions to compensate. This can strain the muscles or the temporomandibular joint, your TMJ.

Improper development of the maxilla can also cause speech issues by changing the shape of your palate.

A recessed maxilla can be treated with orthodontic headgear, dermal fillers, or surgery.

Orthodontic headgear

Orthodontic headgear is a device worn outside the mouth to correct jaw and bite irregularities. Children, whose jaws and teeth are still developing, typically wear headgear.

A reverse pull facemask is a type of orthodontic headgear that’s used to correct underdevelopment of the upper jaw. This headgear works by using elastic bands connected to braces. In most cases, the headgear needs to be worn for at least 12 hours per day.

Dermal fillers

Dermal fillers are gels that are injected beneath your skin to restore volume and reshape your face. They can be made of a variety of materials including calcium hydroxyapatite, hyaluronic acid, or polyalkylimide.

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, more than 1 million people get facial fillers each year.

Recessed maxilla surgery

According to a 2013 review, orthognathic surgery, or corrective jaw surgery, can treat a recessed maxilla and other jaw irregularities. During the procedure, a surgeon will cut your jawbones and realign them into the correct position. They may use bone plates, screws, wires, or rubber bands to keep your jawbones in their correct position.

A 2015 case report looked at anterior maxillary distraction, a surgical technique used to fix maxilla hypoplasia. This procedure is used particularly in people with cleft palates or lips.

Face pulling is a technique that can supposedly move the maxilla bone forward and upward. The idea is that if you assert a pressure repetitively to your maxilla bone, it will remodel itself. There are several types of face pulling techniques described online.

One of these techniques involves putting pressure on each side of your jaw with your thumbs for several minutes per day. Advocates claim that this can cause significant changes to your maxilla bone, but there’s no scientific evidence that this technique can change your facial shape.

Another popular technique called mewing involves flattening your tongue against the roof of your mouth to realign your teeth and reshape your jaw. There’s no scientific evidence that the technique is effective.

The doctor who popularized this technique, Dr. John Mew, has since been stripped of his dental license by the United Kingdom’s General Dental Council, according to a 2019 study.

A recessed maxilla is an atypical growth of your upper jawbone. It can cause cosmetic issues like flat cheekbones and a prominent jaw. It can also lead to dental problems, speech issues, and obstructed breathing.

If a recessed maxilla isn’t causing any health issues, there’s no need to have it treated. If it’s causing issues, or if you want to change it for cosmetic reasons, dermal fillers or jaw surgery are the most practical treatments for adults.