“We better save some money. This girl is going to need braces,” my mother said to my father when I was barely a year old. The older I got, the more obvious it became that something was “off” with my face. By the time I was six I had the jaw of a bulldog and a smile only a mother could love. So, off to the orthodontist we went.
“Years of reconstructive orthodontics followed by reconstructive jaw surgery,” Dr. Harkins told my parents. That was the recommended course of treatment for a Class III Malocclusion, aka under bite. I was only six , but I could sense the worry from my parents as we sat in a dark room on plush leather seats reviewing x-rays of my face. Worry for my health and worry over money I imagine. They probably weren’t even sure how they could manage to pay for the consult we were sitting in, then alone thousands upon thousands for braces and surgery. But, it was absolutely necessary the doctor said, and treatment had to be started soon.
I was a tall, chubby, awkward kid with very few friends and an embarrassing smile. On top of that, I became the only first grader in my school to have braces. I was certain my life was over, but I tried to play it cool because I secretly hoped the braces would fix my face so I could be pretty like all the other girls. After braces came the palate expander, then the retainer, followed by the Hannibal Lecter-esque head gear I was forced to sleep in. Years of painful manipulation widened my underdeveloped upper jaw and pulled it forward in my head, dramatically changing my appearance. “Now we wait until she’s done growing,” the doctor said. “Then reconstructive surgery.”
A few years later, I was actually starting to like the shape of my face. People often told me I was pretty. And even though I didn’t feel pretty, I was starting to feel less ugly. For me, that was progress. Then years 14, 15, and 16 passed and it started getting harder to eat. I was developing an open bite now, and I was NOT happy about it. It was time to reevaluate for surgery. The details from here are not clear to me. I’m not certain if it was based more on health benefits and finances or fear of having my head disassembled, but eventually, surgery was no longer an option. At this point my bite was so bad that only my very back teeth made contact when I bit down. A total of four teeth with only two tiny points of contact made eating, talking, and smiling more challenging day by day. A local dentist decided to grind down all of my molars in attempt to relieve my jaw pain. It worked a bit, for a while but things continued to shift.
At 19 or 20 I inquired again about the surgery. I wanted to know what was involved. The doctor told me in no uncertain terms, “ an incision would be made along the underside of the jaw from corner to corner, they would deglove (aka, peel off) the bottom of my face break my jaw in two places, remove a portion from each side then fuse it back together. “ I think I threw up in my mouth a bit while he described all this to me. Capital “H_E_L_L N_O, uh uhah, no way” they were doing that to my face. I’d lived this long with my problems, and considering I could DIE with such a surgery, I thought I’d skip all those shenannagans. If I knew then what would happen in the following years, if only someone would have told me, perhaps my refusal might have been slightly less vehement. What they didn’t tell me then was that the surgery was inevitable and without it, I would lose function of my jaw joints.
So, here I am, a 34 year old mother in constant pain, some days unbearably so. It has only been this bad for the past few years and when it creeps up slowly, I guess you just get used to dealing with the pain. Perhaps because of my chronic back pain I have a higher threshold, or perhaps I’m ridiculously stubborn for trying to tolerate my painful, dysfunctional jaw for all these years. But I’m here now, and even though this seems like the worst possible time in my life to go through such a drastic surgery, it’s something I’m told I HAVE to do. If I don’t do this now, my jaw joints will continue to break down and will ultimately need replaced. I already have bone loss due to the discs being displaced, and it will only worsen without intervention. They say the joint replacement never has optimal results, so I’m backed up against a wall with a bone saw in my face. I’ve come to terms with the horrific nature of what this surgery will entail and I pray every day for the will to be strong.
Braces have been on for almost a year now in preparation for surgery. Advancement of the upper jaw and reduction with rotation of the lower jaw is on my agenda for September 8th. It’s not going to be fun, and I’m probably going to do quite a bit of whining about it. So, I’ll use this forum to vent, perhaps sparing those closest to me from my incessant whining. I hope this answers all the questions everyone may have and I’ll keep posting updates for those who are interested. Pictures and videos to follow. For now, I’m focusing on weight loss and getting healthier before going under the knife.