Adventures in Jaw Surgery

I grew up my entire life with an underbite. It was just a part of who I was and I never really thought twice about it. Granted, my teeth were never perfect because my parents didn’t put dental health first, but, I don’t blame them for that because they had their hands full dealing with my heart complications when I was 9 years old. I’m sure my teeth were the last thing they were worried about.

Two years ago, I decided to get braces. I told the orthodontist at the time that I wasn’t sure about the surgery. Somewhere during those two years, I went in for a consultation for orthognathic surgery. What is orthognathic surgery, you ask? Well, it’s surgery where they, plainly put, cut your jaw (or jaws in most cases) and move it around to fix abnormal jaw alignment and jaw disproportionalities. You can read more about it here.

It was highly recommended by my primary dentist and my orthodontist because I had an under-developed upper jaw with an asymmetric bite that would eventually leave me unable to chew at an older age. I mean, c’mon, regardless of how old I get, I will let nothing get between me and eating.

The surgery would massively improve my overall dental health, allowing me to chew correctly, breath normally, and stop me from grinding my back teeth when I slept. Cosmetically, it would correct my profile, close my gaps, and help with the lisp that I developed while having braces.

After more consultations, talking with Anthony, and doing research, we set a date. When I told my parents, they flipped out. My mom told me that in Vietnamese culture, if you’re luck is good, you don’t change your appearance because it could alter your aura. My response: “Love ya, mom”.

Preparation

Besides friends that I talked to on a regular basis, I didn’t openly talk about the surgery until a week out. My family and friends that did know were asking me if I was ready.

“I think so”, I’d replied. It was the truth; I didn’t know if I was ready. I just knew it was happening.

I started prepping the supplies I needed for recovery a few days before — baby toothbrush, syringes, canned soups, Jell-o, Vaseline, ice roller, and ice packs — and realized that it would be awhile until I was feeling back to normal. My jaw wasn’t going to be wired shut but I would be on a soft food diet for quite a long time. Ugh, no pizza!

I was solely focused on eating things that I knew I wouldn’t be able to have for awhile (e.g like pizza) and prepping for the physical recovery.

Surgery Day & Physical Recovery

On August 16th, my parents left Dallas at 2am to make it to Austin in time to be with us. We arrived at the surgery center around 6:00am with only a nurse in sight.

At approximately 7:30am, the place was swarming. I met my anesthesiologist and surgeon, Dr. Gallagher. After signing some papers, getting an IV, and all of that good stuff, it was go time.

The medical term of the surgery was written as:

Le Fort 1 Total Maxillary Osteotomy, with autologous platelet rich plasma and banked bone grafted to maxilla, rigid skeletal fixation (bone plates and screws), insertion of stabilizing splint, and maxillary extraction, right third molar.

Gnarly.

As I was pushed into the operating room, I remember vaguely being asked about pets, to which I replied “yes, a dog named Cooper”. From there, I went into an anesthetic-induced sleep where I dreamt about client work. Yes, work. Of all the things that I could have dreamt about, like pizza, I dreamt about client work.

The moment I woke up from surgery, I asked for a pen and wrote this on my hand to show Anthony. It says, “I was dreaming of FB [Facebook] :)”.

When I opened my eyes, I thought I was at home. It was not until I focused in on my mom and Anthony standing by my bedside smiling and a nurse staring at some paperwork that I remembered what happened. The nurses made sure I was able to get up and walk to the restroom before I was released. All together, the surgery took about 2 hours and I was out of the hospital by 1:00pm. It all happened very quickly. Technology advancements, amirite?

Immediately following surgery, I was gross, puffy, swollen, and leaked exhaustion from every pore and in every exhalation. After a week, I mustered up enough energy that enabled me to do a number of simple domestic things like showering, doing laundry, and loading dishes. Surprisingly, recovering has been much easier than I had initially expected, given the intensity of the procedure. I was able to stop taking pain medication the second day after surgery and relied on Tylenol for the small things like headaches and pressure build up in areas around my face.

Eating, however, is its own feat. The first week, I had to eat through a syringe. It was mostly puréed soups and smoothies, but thanks to friends and family, I had tons of soup options to choose from. Since then, I’ve been on a “no chew diet” and I’ve been getting a little more adventurous with what I eat. For example, I had cheese enchiladas (in public might I add) and managed to eat most of it sans baby spoon. It was heaven.

All in all, despite not being able to speak clearly for another few weeks (because of my splint), I practically have zero pain and feel normal again.

Emotional Recovery

Let’s talk about this really quickly because despite the pain and swelling, the mental recovery was something I wasn’t prepared for that probably affected me the most.

Going in to the surgery, I knew that it would alter my appearance but I didn’t know to what extent. Since I didn’t do this purely for cosmetic reasons, I failed to prepare myself for it.

After surgery, everything was hidden behind a thick layer of swelling. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt terrified. Imagine living 32 years with facial features that you have watched yourself grow into completely change overnight. That sensation floored me the day after my surgery. I felt horrified with what I saw in the mirror.

I felt like a Monchichi

“Holy sh*t, is this what I look like now?”

It was pretty shocking and it stayed that way until recently.

Luckily, there’s an entire supportive community that exists on Instagram of awesome people who have gone through the same experiences that have spent time documenting their recovery. Believe it or not, following other people’s recoveries made me feel a million times better about my own. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Moving Forward

It’s been a little more than 2 weeks since the surgery and as the days pass and the swelling goes down, I’m becoming a lot more comfortable with the results. It’ll take a few months for all of the swelling to dissipate but friends that have seen me through the process say it has improved immensely over a short period of time. Thank goodness.

I’m starting to notice a few things that have already improved because of this surgery:

  1. I no longer feel terrified of having my photo taken. Since surgery, I’ve probably taken more selfies than I have my entire life. Not only is it for documenting the changes during recovery, but it’s also because I’m flabbergasted that I actually like my side profile and I no longer feel like I need to hide from the camera. As I scour through older photos to find things to compare my new facial structure to, I also realized that I always, very nonchalantly, refused to let people, including my own husband, snap a photo of me without making a silly face, tilting my head, or covering my mouth with my hand. Those reactions stemmed from the insecurity I had about my underbite. I’m now excited to see how my confidence will grow over time because of this surgery.
  2. I can breathe! When I inhale through my nose, for the first time in my life, I can actually feel the air flowing from my nostrils into my lungs. It feels ridiculously amazing. The doctor said this might also have fixed my allergy problems as well. Yeah, we’ll see about that though. #CedarFever is relentless.
  3. It’s also a weird feeling to be able to touch my tongue to the back of my bottom teeth first. Who’da thunk it? It’s also weird that my front teeth sit in front of my bottom teeth. The small things, right?
  4. OMG, I have a real upper lip now. Rejoice!
  5. As far as improvements in chewing goes, I still have a few more weeks before I find out. However, since my back teeth fit together correctly now, I’m sure it’ll be wonderful once I get to eat a nice, fat, juicy steak.

Upwards and onwards (towards crunchy things, like pizza)!

Love,
Natalie