It’s been a year and a half and some of you have asked for an update. We’ve been very busy because we’re adopting a child! It’s difficult to post an update that you’ll relate to because adoption brings on a lot of stress, physical and emotional, which has made it hard to tell which symptoms are from jaw surgery and which are from stress. But here goes…
One of the risks with jaw surgery is that the bite will shift after surgery. I still wear my retainer every night while I sleep (removable retainers, as well as permanent wires). I’m sure this has helped. I saw Dr. T. last month and he told me my bite is still perfect. I also saw my orthodontist and he said my results were in the top 5%, couldn’t have asked for better. So, yay!
This is a tough one. When I don’t move my face, I couldn’t tell that I ever had the surgery. Ditto when I talk. But when I smile, there is still a faint tightness in the cheeks. Dr. T. says this will go away, but it may take up to 4 years. Progress is so slow, it’s as tedious as watching ice water come to a boil.
I just have to put it out of my head. I find measurable details and check back a few months later. For example, I had a slightly numb spot above my lip. It’s not 100%, it’s about 80%, and it gets better by about 2% every month. Will it get there? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s not impossible. Dr. T. can tell it will come back because he pokes it with a needle and I yelp, so it’s not dead. Trust. You have to trust your surgeon. It’s not easy, because up until surgery this person feels like a somewhat stranger.
For a few weeks after the 1-year mark, I had a lot of weird things going on in my joints. This was because my lateral jaw movement was coming back. Sometimes I’d be talking or eating and my jaw would suddenly jerk to one side or the other and it would hurt, because it’d never gone that far before. This was frustrating. I started taking glucosamine to lubricate the joints and this worked like a dream. I honestly wish I’d started taking this supplement right after surgery. Some people say it works miracles and now I’m a believer. I still take it now.
The last few months have been incredibly tense for me because we’re going through an adoption process. And what I’ve learned about myself is that I tense my whole body and face when I’m stressed, even happy stress. I flex my toes, make fists with my hands, tense my shoulders and clench my jaw.
This has brought on symptoms that made me very worried. Tingling and zinging came back. I was so worried that I avoided seeing my surgeon about it. I was afraid he’d tell me that this is what I had to live with for the rest of my life. I finally gathered the courage and he said they were symptoms brought on by stress. Sure enough, I went home and took an anti-anxiety medication and all of my symptoms vanished. I mean everything. My face felt normal for the first time since surgery, completely!
So Dr. T. gave me prescription anti-inflammatory medication to get me through the hard days, and I have an appointment scheduled with my family doctor to find ways to ease my stress. I try meditating to relax every part of my body, finishing with my face, and this helps but then I go about my day and tense up again, and tingling starts over. The anti-inflammatory meds work, but I don’t remember to take them with me everywhere.
Hide yo knives!
One fine morning, I was washing my face when I felt a tremendously sharp pain high up my gum, under my nose. I lifted my gum and saw this foreign black knob sticking out of my gum. In true form, I panicked and called my surgeon’s emergency line, my husband and cancelled my plans for the weekend: my hardware is coming out of my gums!
I nearly fainted and was on my back waiting for the surgeon to call back. And then… the thing dislodged. It came loose. I braced myself for a gush of blood, things were happening fast, this was serious. I reached into my mouth to take the screw off my tongue. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a screw. It was a sharp little piece of cocoa.
Next thing you know, the phone’s ringing and it’s the surgeon’s office calling me back all concerned. I told them what happened and they laughed out loud and said it’s ok. They pulled up my file and I said please don’t, I’ve already wasted so much of your valuable time with my ridiculousness! But, if you do, please put a large, bright post-it on my folder that says “CRAZY LADY”. The lesson here? Investigate before calling the surgeon, the family and the pope!
I’m finally comfortable with how my face looks from the side and head-on, as long as I’m not talking. There are not many opportunities to watch yourself in the mirror while you talk. Yesterday I had my hair done and it took 4 hours. Every time I saw myself talking in the mirror, I felt so disturbed with how my mouth moves. It looks unnatural to me. I feel very self-conscious when I’m talking to someone face-to-face, like over coffee. I feel my face moving and ask myself if I look funny to that person, if my mouth is moving funny. It’s a terrible mind-game and gives me lots of anxiety. I’m obviously a very high-anxiety person. I need to get out of my own head and forget about it. I’m not sure what will help me get over this. I’d say it took me a year to get used to my new face, and it’ll take me at least another year to accept the way I look while I’m talking and my mouth is moving. I didn’t expect this, and others might not have this problem, but I’m putting it out there.
As well, I’ve reached a point where I can’t remember what things looked or felt like before surgery. What’s normal? Did my face really change? It’s an eery feeling. When I look at old pictures I wonder if I really looked that different before. But then if I put them side by side, like below, I see lots has changed. For example, my nose seems longer and wider now. My eyes too. My smile is definitely wider. There’s less gum and you can see more of my teeth when I smile. I also look older.
My aesthetician had some interesting feedback for me several months after surgery, she said: “You used to be, like, chipmunk-cute. And now you’re just cute.”
More Than You Can Chew
Open bite sufferers! I spent 30 years eating with an open bite and there are things I did that I never noticed. I bit off more than I could chew and I dealt with it by trying to chomp it all down. When eating in public, I was mortified when I bit into something and got way more than I could handle, and had to pull large chunks of food or slices of tomato out of my mouth and back onto my plate. When I tried to eat sushi, or a burrito, or hamburger and the whole thing fell apart on my plate and in my hands, often on my shirt.
It is so awesome to be able to measure the bite you want to take it and get just that, not more. My eating is so much cleaner. My foods don’t look butchered. The last bite of my sandwich, wrap or hamburger is neat and clean, my hands are clean, my plate is clean. I underestimated how great this would be! I’m also using my front teeth now. I didn’t realize how long it takes to replace old habits, like biting into things with my side-teeth, or chewing more slowly because I can manage the small amount of food in each bite. I didn’t think this would be the best part about surgery but it’s definitely life-changing.
I can’t think of anything else at the moment, but if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them. I still get iPhone notifications when someone posts a comment, and try my best to answer the same day. I know how worrisome this process is. So here are a bunch of photos of the last month to show you that everything is fine and you will smile again soon!