Jaws and Soft Tissue Profile and the Changes that Occur During Adolescence

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During a person’s lifetime, changes in their body can and do occur, especially during adolescence. This includes the jaw area, which is important to learn especially for orthodontists, dentists, and other medical people. It helps to know this not only to ensure a person’s facial structure looks more even, but also so that oral surgeons and dentists know what to look for when there’s a problem.

This article centers on the jaws and soft tissue profile and how they are affected by age, as well as other changes that take place in a person’s lifetime.

Age Changes of Jaws and Soft Tissue Profile

Dentists and orthodontists must be familiar with a patient’s craniofacial growth in order to provide the services that these patients need. It is now known that the jaw and surrounding area changes not only in adolescence but even later in life. Because more adults are now getting orthodontic work done, their doctors have to get a true picture of what their jaw has developed.

If you were to look at the size of the jaw throughout the average person’s life, you’d notice that it continues to grow throughout a good portion of their life. Most of the growth that occurs after the age of 17 is minimal, but it is still important to note that the changes do occur. Pregnancy can cause more than minor growth of the jaw in many women.

Face and jaw development in children is a concern for doctors because if things don’t develop normally, there can be problems such as mouth-breathing, which can cause problems such as sleep disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, and even less oxygen absorption when trying to breathe. This is why doctors keep such a close eye on jaw development during different growth stages.

Mouth-breathing that continues can lead to the jaw and the airways developing abnormally, which can result in future maladies such as sleep apnea, TMJ issues, headaches, dental crowding, and even chronic neck and shoulder pain. The jaw’s development can also affect future facelifts, and doctors now know that it starts with the angle of the jaw increasing significantly as we age.

The length of the jaw decreases between young and middle-age people, and the height of the jaw usually decreases in patients who are middle- to old-age. Doctors believe that this happens in order to keep the facial area more even-looking and aesthetically pleasing. The decline of the jaw’s overall volume means less support of soft tissue in the lower face and neck area.

This, in turn, can cause facial skin that sags and a chin that projects less as a person ages, giving the person the typical “aged” appearance, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing! Nevertheless, this knowledge is helping plastic surgeons find ways to help people look younger as they age.

Mandibular Growth During Adolescence

The jaw does in fact change a lot during adolescence. The lower jaw especially becomes wider and longer. In addition, the muscles that support the lower jaw get stronger, and this results in your lower teeth protruding slightly so that your chin looks more prominent. In the lower jaw is also found the masseter muscle, and it becomes a lot stronger as a teenager.

As a result of these things your face can become more chiseled and angular, and the jaw bones themselves get wider. Even your facial bones can experience more height and width, and the temples on your forehead can deepen. In other words, it isn’t just your jaw that changes during this time frame; it is the entire facial area.

If all of these things sound uncomfortable, they can be just that most of the time. And if not uncomfortable, the teen may still feel very strange while it’s happening. Nevertheless, the changes are necessary in order for the facial area to look more polished and mature.

The jaw essentially peaks during the teen years but usually continues to grow into a person’s 20s and even their 30s. That being said, the changes become much less pronounced during the adult years.

What Can Affect Proper Jaw Development in Children and Teens?

Because jaw development is so important, it’s good to know what can potentially affect that development. According to pediatricians, the most significant of these include the following:

  • Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Frequent viral infections
  • Allergies
  • Certain tongue habits
  • Chronic open-mouth posture
  • Prolonged thumb-sucking or pacifier use as a child
  • Tongue tie

In fact, many people are surprised to learn that heredity and genetics play only a small part in problems that develop as your jaw develops – only around 10% as a general rule. Certain habits and things that are beyond our control, such as infections and allergies, play a much larger role in these problem areas.

If you are having any problems, such as pain or even breathing problems, it could be indicative of problems with your jaw. What should you do in these cases? The first thing you should do is see your dentist, who may refer you to a specialist. The thing is, many problems can be the result of jaw problems, even things that seem to be unrelated, such as mouth-breathing or snoring.

While most jaw problems arise before you become an adult, some may not be noticed or diagnosed until years later. Nevertheless, as soon as you notice any discomfort or pain anywhere in the facial or neck area, it is time to get it looked at by a physician.


Activities such as getting braces and even getting a facelift later in life require doctors knowing all about your jaw structure. The jaw – both the upper jaw (maxilla) and the lower jaw (mandible) – can continue to grow until you’re in your 30s, but most of the growth will be complete by the time you reach 20 years of age.

Even if you don’t consider braces or facelifts to be a part of your future, it’s still important to make sure you consult with a doctor if there is ever any chronic or severe pain anywhere in the face or neck area.


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