Well friends and fans, February 27, 2017 marks the 5 year anniversary of my brutal double jaw surgery, palette expansion, and genioplasty! 2012 was the big year for me of pain and very humbling experiences.
In retrospect, what I have learned,
So how do I feel now? I am sure that is the question on some of your minds. Am I happy with the results? Did I achieve the results I wanted (i.e., has it solved or at least lessened my chronic TMJ, did it fix my bite and inner cheek chomping habits).
First, I want to address the chronic TMJ as that is usually what drives people to seek the surgery. Did it help? YES!!!! Did it go away completely? No. But the jaw pain I had before the surgery was every single friggin day. The pain had spread from my jaw down to my neck, up to my sinus, and settling in my head. None of that was fun. Nowadays, I notice some muscle stiffness in my jaw (more so in the morning because I am still a huge jaw clencher at night), will do some gentle jaw massaging and there, but it is nothing compared to the daily pain I endured before. If my pain before the surgery was 8/10, now I would say it sits around 2/10.
I never got full feeling back in my face but I don’t really care. I do not have any spots that are completely numb, but rather many parts that feel a bit deadened – like the nerves don’t have feeling at a deeper level but I do have feeling at a more superficial. When I run my fingers along my face, the right side where I had my awful palate expansion, has that slightly deadened feeling. The spot directly under my nose has the funniest feeling of deadened nerves – it almost tingles and tickles when I touch that spot. Generally speaking, most of the deadened sensation is on the right side which I attribute to the palate expansion.
I think we will spend the remainder of our lives fighting our jaw’s desire to return to the position it unnaturally developed into. My lower jaw occasionally likes to sneak back to the right side while I am eating, and then I take a chunk out of my inner lip with my right incisor. My jaw occasionally spasms shut, but nowhere near with the force after my surgery.
And my teeth! And my bite! Let’s talk about those. I have gorgeous teeth now. No shame saying that. I went through agony to get here. I am so happy with how straight and lined up my teeth are and the fact that my molars actually line up and my teeth meet BLOWS MY MIND. Until my jaw surgery, I never ever chewed on the right side because my teeth didn’t meet anywhere. That lead to a massive jaw muscle on the left (which contributed to the TMJ) and a slack muscle on the right side. Now, however, I chew on both sides and the pressure is evenly distributed. What a gift to be able to chew properly! Seriously.
My face looks a bit more symmetrical than before and I like my chin and nose much more now. My chin is less pointy thanks to the genioplasty and since both my jaws were moved forward, my nose looks smaller. There are some things I don’t like as much that I have come to accept. My jaw line on the right side is a bit lumpy and even though the right side of my face is filled out more, thanks to the palate expansion, it still looks somehow, underdeveloped, and yeah, a bit lumpy. But pobody’s nerfect right?
Advice and tips.
If you decide to have orthagnathic surgery, here is my advice to you. First of all, think about how difficult you expect it to be and how painful it will likely be. Now triple, quadruple, times it by 5, 8 or 10. Whatever – my point is this surgery is going to be MUCH more difficult than anyone led you to believe.
I honestly feel that surgeons and orthodontists pussy foot around the issue of pain because they don’t feel comfortable talking about it. I believe that they rely on the stories of people who seemed to have very easy experiences post surgery (yeah, that kind of person apparently exists! who are you? are you a robot?) and try to ease your fears by relying on these easier experience stories. But I dare say that most people have much more difficult and painful experiences.
You CANNOT do this alone. You need someone to stay with you to make sure you take your meds on schedule (your schedule of medication is crazy at first) and to force you to drink liquids because you won’t want too and you will be so distracted by your own personal torment that getting up and preparing liquids will seem like a nightmare task.
Emotional support. You Need emotional support. This surgery will mess heavily with your emotions and may leave you initially depressed. Myself and several others I have spoken with have all commented on experiencing some levels of depression after. Mine was intense – I thought about suicide during the initial week after because I was in such agony. As your recovery continues, you realize how much of your joy in life comes from being able to taste wonderful flavours and eat what you want. Mood is linked to food – no doubt about. When you have been on Ensure and soup broth for weeks, the funky mood definitely takes its toll.
Do NOT judge your face right after. It is going to remain swollen for months and months after. If you think you have a little pig nose, or man face (I thought I had both), or a boxy face or whatever, take a deep breath and tell yourself IT IS SWELLING. You NEED to understand this – you will not have a clear idea of the final final final results until 6 plus months after surgery. I would say upwards of 8-10 months. Yes you read that right. It takes a long time for the swelling to go down so let this be your mantra and try to avoid being overly critical to your changing face.
I seriously have yet to see an After picture of orthagnathic surgery where the Before was actually better. After always looks better, even if you didn’t quite achieved total resolution of your TMJ, even if you still have numbness, or whatever.
Nerve sensation will continue regenerating throughout the year post op. Like I said, however, I never regained full feeling and it doesn’t bother me.
Current teeth care.
Once you get your braces off, now it’s really time to let loose and celebrate! Here are some important points I want you to consider. Ask your orthodontist if he is going to put in permanent retainers behind your upper and lower teeth and if he says no, INSIST he do it. And it MUST be on both the upper and lower teeth. As we age, teeth have a tendency to collapse inwards (same with our face in away, with the sunken look of old age), meaning that all your work with braces and your bravery facing your surgery, will be for naught. Simply wearing a retainer at night isn’t enough. This is why people end up with crooked teeth years after their braces came off, and some choose to go through the braces all over again.
This brings me to your nighttime retainer. Wear the damn thing! You deserve it – consider it a gift you give to yourself every evening, to honour your bravery and your experiences. You owe it to yourself to wear that damn thing every night. You will probably have several options – an Essex retainer (fits tighly on your teeth and keeps them in place at night) or a mouthguard that dually acts as a retainer. I started off with the Essex but recently switched to the dual mouthguard retainer becuase I clench my jaw at night like a mofo. It took 2 dental visits to get the fit right but I seriously love my mouthgard now.
Flossing! One of the least fun things to do in the world. Well, if you have permanent braces like me , flossing becomes even more important to avoid rot and gingivitis in the small areas between the retainer and the gums. My dentist blew my mind a few months ago when she told me that traditional flossing is out – passe, over, retro, etc. Studies found flossing to not be very effective, mainly because people don’t do it often enough or adequately enough. The recommendation now is to use the little brush pics that slide easily between your teeth and even gives your jaw a little massage. I am a HUGE fan of them and now I floss every night! It’s amazing how much tooth brushing can miss, in terms of food particles, which the brush pics find and deal with.