picture progression: from braces to jaw surgery

I guess I should take a step back here and share some pictures of the journey my mouth has been on in the last year.

My dental fiasco didn’t start last October, actually. It started when I was 11 and I was told I needed braces. I got an expander (and then another) at 13 and braces on at 14. I got them off the summer before I turned 17, open bite and all. I made the terrible decision at 26 to stop wearing my retainers and see what happened and BAD THINGS HAPPENED. I jammed my top retainer back on, but it was never to fit very well again. The bottom was a lost cause. So that’s where these pictures are starting out, from day 1 of getting braces for the second time on October 21st, 2015, until right before the mandibular osteotomy/genioplasty in September of 2016.

Day 1, October 21st, 2015

These pictures are in time-order. I would take pictures every time I had an orthodontist appointment (every 4-12 weeks). In these four pictures I had bite turbos on my back molars in order to allow my cross bite to be corrected with elastics. This was not a good time for talking or eating.

Bite turbos out, yay! Things are coming together. These were my last four appointments before surgery, and with the Damon system of braces (which I have) your wires get thicker and thicker which each appointment, so my mouth was getting its shit together fast. During the time the last two pictures were taken was the first time I could touch my front top teeth to my front bottom teeth in 16 years. That really was a special moment and a huge relief.

My previous couple posts depict the uglier side of recovery, so here’s one taken on day 16 post-surgery to shine a little ray of hope into all this metal and misery. I can only mean mug right now and pretend like I’m trying to be sexy because of this goddamn occlusal splint, bane of my being, torturer of my soul. I get it taken out in two hours, giddy-up!

12

Green bruises and all.

jaw surgery–before

In two days I will have a Mandibular Bilateral Sagittal Split Osteotomy and Genioplasty Advancement. In other words, jaw surgery. When I originally found out I would need this surgery three years ago, the orthodontist thought I would also have to have my top jaw surgically corrected and possibly segmented into three pieces to widen my bite. Thank God my orthodontist here is a miracle-worker and has resolved my open bite and cross bite without surgical intervention. So the problems I have left are my lower jaw and chin.

HOW: The surgeon will make two diagonal cuts through my jaw on both sides in order to pull it forward 12 millimeters and screw it in place. That may not sound like a lot, but it is when you’re dealing with facial proportions and jaw placement. Secondly, he’ll cut through the tip of my chin and move that forward too, screwing it in place to give my face better proportion after the movement of my lower jaw.

jaw

The places marked in red will be cut and moved.

WHY: I’ve addressed this in previous posts, but I’ve had a cross bite, open bite, and significant overbite since puberty (for about 17 years now). I had two expanders and braces as a high schooler, but none of my bite issues were corrected. At first, just the open bite bothered me, but I was pain-free. As time passed, I started having increased muscle tension and discomfort, especially on the left side of my jaw and down my neck. I also chew farther back on my teeth than I should, meaning my molars are wearing down faster than they should. My open bite and overbite also affect how I speak, giving me a little lisp and making me thrust my jaw forward to enunciate, which is exhausting, especially when I’m teaching linguistics, when accuracy and being able to talk at length is vital.

I’m adding some before pictures to show some of the issues I’ve mentioned and to be able to compare them to after (assuming I make it).

Left to right: the day I got braces for the second time, teeth 10 months later right before surgery, profile from both sides before surgery

Did I mention I’m extremely nervous? Current list of worries:

  1. Being aware but paralyzed during surgery
  2. Throwing up after just getting my jaw broken
  3. Getting a blood clot
  4. Having to wear a splint in my mouth when I go back to work and not being able to talk
  5. Not having my jaw rubberbanded or wired shut, so my freshly-detached jaw is just flying free
  6. Waking up with an incredibly swollen, different face than I went to sleep with
  7. Having to swallow medication immediately after surgery (not a pill swallower to begin with)
  8. falling into a deep depression
  9. crying immediately after surgery and having difficulty breathing

Obviously some of these fears are more justified than others, but in my anxiety-ridden mind, they’re all equally devastating prospects. I picked up a journal I’ve dubbed my jaw journal, and on the front it says “It’s Gonna Be Okay” with inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout the pages. I thought this would be a good, uplifting exercise, focusing on positivity, but I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. Most quotes have my cross-outs or scribbles on them, like “fuck optimists” or “bullshit,” then my own version of uplifting quotes written in place of the originals. For instance,”If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.” Seeing as I live in Phoenix, I obviously don’t agree with that pithy sentiment. I replaced it with, “It’s the same sort of cold comfort when we look up into a clear sky and see that we are mere specks in the enormous universe. Our actions here on earth contribute, no doubt, to the evolution of civilization, but in such a minor and minuscule way that there is freedom in knowing that what you do doesn’t really matter, can’t matter, in the scheme of things.” That’s from Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend, which you should read, by the way.

So I guess, in a way, my journal idea is working, just not the way this journal intended. I’ve been brainstorming ways to wrap my mind around this, deal with the fear and pain, and with not eating food for six weeks. I think good books, journaling, sunshine, and watching good shows will go a long way. Everyone says watching comedies improves your mood, but I’ve found that watching the most fucked-up things I can find (stories about kidnappings, murders, the deep web, torture, craniofacial surgery way more severe than mine, stalkers etc.) helps me put things in perspective and take my mind off my comparatively-petty problems. Whatever works, right?

So, with my fridge stocked with liquids and my credit card charged with any and all things from Target I thought might make this process more comfortable, away we go.

newness

Like most, the new year is one of my favorite times to reflect and adjust accordingly.

Last year I resolved to keep record of all the books I read in 2015. I did that, but my competitive side started counting and thinking I should be reading more and it became stressful. I would start a book, it wouldn’t be my thing, and I would be loath to stop reading it because then I wasted days reading something I couldn’t put on my list. I started to rationalize that the 37 I did finish wasn’t a true reflection of the actual 5o or 60 books I started and read parts of, not to mention I had to find time to watch all seasons of Mad Men and Sex and the City in there somewhere, so that lack of time should be factored in somewhere, right?

This year, a friend of mine sent me a list of types of books to read, and I think this will turn out better, challenging me to read outside what I might have naturally chosen while minimizing the pressure to read quickly or get through a certain number of books. My working list is below.

  1. a book published this year (2015)–Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
  2. one I can finish in a day–Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli
  3. one I’ve been meaning to read–The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  4. one recommended by a librarian or bookseller–The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  5. one I should have read in school–Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  6. one chosen for me–Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  7. one banned–The Boy Who Lost His Face, Louis Sachar
  8. one previously abandoned–Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  9. one I own but never read–The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  10. one that intimidates me–Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  11. one I’ve already read–Wanderlust, Elizabeth Eaves

If I don’t like any of these, I’m resolving now to toss it and not feel guilty. Any other recommendations welcome.

Onto a topic far less interesting and much more stressful: my teeth, an almost constant pain in my ass in recent months. I got braces again in October in anticipation of jaw surgery. The orthodontist said to expect to be ready for surgery 10-12 months after getting them on, and I sincerely hope he’s right and this shit doesn’t drag out.

Reliving the nightmare of braces as an adult is disheartening, primarily because of the pain I don’t remember feeling the first time around. My teeth have been varying levels of sore for the past three months. I got my wisdom teeth out two months ago, and am now dealing with nerve damage resulting in numbness in my lower lip and chin. That’s ever-so-slowly improving, but it’s been a frustrating process. I have rubber bands pulling my cross bite out, bite turbos keeping my jaw open to allow for that, and eight tongue tamers glued to the backs of my front teeth (google for maximum level of sympathy). The bite turbos make it hard to talk (read: lisp) and also make me grind my teeth in my sleep so hard they squeak, which is kind of scary.

I also just feel ugly. It might all be in my head, but it feels hard to be respected as a medical professional when I’m lisping my way through an explanation and looking like a weird tween. I try to bond with my older pediatric patients by asking them about their braces, and they are never having it. Throw me a bone, teens.

Overall though, it feels good to be started on this jaw-fixing journey. Getting started was an enormous obstacle, mentally and financially, and getting through the worst of this ordeal is a goal for 2016.

What other goals might an introvert troll have? The constant one, to try a little harder, give people a chance, or quickly dismiss them but put myself in a place where I can meet others. To go to uncomfortable events, to talk to strangers. To establish myself further in this place. Not to get to a place where I feel socially desperate, like I did a while back when I seriously considered trying to hang out with my dental hygienist.

Come on 2016, be good to me.