Double Jaw Surgery … What, Why, How & When?

A lot of people don’t understand that my first consult for Double Jaw Surgery was when I was 16 years old. It was a tricky time in my life as I was still very deep in the grip of my eating disorder. At that time overall I had many fears and apprehensions for this surgery. At 16 my Jaw Surgeon suggested the surgery because of my alignment but really the only reason for going through the surgery at that stage would of been cosmetically to fix my underbite. I was not having any issues with my jaw or health problems because of it.

I was freaked out and ultimately decided to not go ahead with the surgery. Then the last 2 years happened. My mum & dad both started having major dental problems included infections and bone density loss because of the positions of their jaw. I went to my dentist for a local check up and came to find out I needed all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed and that I had my first cavity. Was this because I wasn’t treating my teeth with care? NO! However it was because of the position of teeth and jaws. My alignment was so off that even the dentist couldn’t get in to clean everywhere in my mouth.

j1
Pre-Surgery Smiling with my teeth touching at back. Could not close my mouth or bite anymore in this smiling position.

So back I went to my Jaw Surgeon in July 2015. This time given my family history and the problems I had I decided to undergo the surgery. It is a long process however. It started with getting braces this was my 3rd time having braces and I really did not look forward to that. Many, many, many appointments and scheduling later, Including 2 surgery dates planned and then cancelled due to hospital availability I finally underwent Double Jaw Surgery on the 22nd of May 2017.

There were a lot of hesitations I had about surgery particularly about changing my appearance. Unfortunately with jaw surgery your face changing is apart of the outcome. While I wanted a nice, aligned, healthy bite, changing my face that I have had for 24 years terrified me.

My Double Jaw Surgery went great. I was under for less time than anticipated and it all went well. I woke up in the ICU and the first two weeks of my recovery were gruelling and I’ll be honest more difficult than I anticipated. Also something didn’t feel right. At my two week check up my surgeon confirmed it my lower jaw had moved quite significantly. He proposed another surgery but wanted to try to rectify the movement (As until the 6 week mark your bones/jaw are still quite malleable). So we tried the rubber bands for two days (Which are placed through hooks attached to your braces) I was in excruciating pain. I didn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and was at the end of my rope.

j12Elastic Bands literally moving my jaw and trying to correct bite 2 weeks after 1st Surgery. HELL – THEY WERE HELL!

A further check up after those two days revealed I would definitely need a second surgery on my lower jaw to rectify the movement. I was scared and felt defeated. I was 3 weeks post my first surgery when the second surgery was scheduled to take place. Honestly because I hadn’t slept much at all I welcomed my day of surgery. At least I knew I would be put to sleep.

I am 2 weeks post my second surgery when writing this and honestly this journey has been so much harder and complicated than you can ever prepare for. Each day brings new challenges and my brain is still trying to catch up with my new face. It is a struggle and it is definitely difficult.

I wanted to write this more in-depth look at jaw surgery so far as an update and answer some common questions I have been receiving online below to address them:

Common Q #1: What is double jaw surgery?
The internet describes jaw surgery as ‘A radical solution to congenital facial deformities or for people unable to chew properly due to excessive over or underbite, the operation involves realigning the upper and lower jaws’. 
While quite frequently in my consults my face and bite was referred to as deformed – I am really uncomfortable with this  description as a Body Positive Activist. Many people who could chose to undergo surgery do not choose to proceed, there is no RIGHT or WRONG choice. Also while my face might have been described as deformed I liked my face before surgeries. The part about unable to chew properly and an excessive underbite this was 100% true for me. 

j4Photo taken one day after 1st Double Jaw Surgery

Common Q #2: What exactly did they ‘do’?
So while I had a significant underbite pre-surgery they would not be able to rectify it by just adjusting my lower jaw back to meet my top jaw. In some cases people only have upper jaw surgery or lower jaw surgery. For me I needed Double Jaw Surgery (Which is moving both the upper and lower jaw). Due to a number of reasons. My top jaw positioning, my teeth, my facial structure and my weight there was a number of considerations to take into account regarding the movement of my jaws and making sure my airways were at their maximum potential. Therefore they moved my upper jaw the maximum it could forward and my lower jaw slightly back to meet my jaw and position correctly. They achieve this by using metal plates, screws and I am assuming magic because I can’t believe surgeons are the same species as me. What they can do is incredible. These metal plates and screws will stay in my jaw forever. Unless they bother me which they shouldn’t. 

j10X-Ray showing jaw position changes. Left Pre Surgeries – Right Post Surgeries.

Common Q #3: Why did you have this surgery?
I had this surgery like stated above to rectify my jaw positioning and align my bite. Before my surgeries my teeth only touched at the back on my left side. Which means only 2 teeth touched when I closed my bite I was only able to chew on those two teeth. Over time this affects your jaw bone density and health of your teeth. I didn’t find it uncomfortable or weird though as my jaw was in that position my whole life. 

Common Q #4: Did you get the surgery for cosmetic reasons?
For some people a large component of choosing to go ahead with this surgery is to change their appearance. While I have no problem with people making that choice for themselves I was quite hesitant and worried about this unavoidable result. I liked the look of my face before surgery. Post surgery now I am on the long road to accept my face and the changes that have occurred.

j9Changes to my Side Profile POST OP DAY 15 AFTER SURGERY #2

Common Q #5: Is this surgery free in Australia?
Despite our awesome health care system no this surgery was not free. With private health care and some rebates through our medicare system in Australia we did receive some rebates and certain aspects of Australian health care is free such as X-Rays, Blood Tests and general doctors visits. Dental work and Orthodontics for example my braces are not covered by the health care system in Australia. So yes this surgery was quite expensive. However compared to overseas countries I think we are very much cheaper. In Australia my surgery including orthodontics cost around $12,000.

Common Q #6: How painful is it?
It is really important to note this surgery has a lot of risks (Including jaw relapse which is why I had a second surgery to rectify this). Also each and every person’s experience will vary slightly depending on what kind of surgery and the movements that occur in that individuals jaw. It has been painful for me at various stages for different reasons. Overall I would say recovery comes with massive discomfort but not excruciating pain. It has been a tough ride overall and is a MAJOR surgery. It is not to be undertaken lightly but I have surprised myself with the strength I have had to get through it.

Some photos of swelling and recovery.
In Order from Top to bottom Left to Right. Top Left 3 days post Op 1st Surgery. Top Right 5 days post Op 1st Surgery. (SQUARE COLLECTION Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Pre Surgeries, Day 1 Post Op Surgery 1, Day 3 Post Op Surgery 1, Day 5 Post Op Surgery 1,  Day 12 Post Op Surgery 1, Day 15 Post Op Surgery 1, Day 21 Post Op Surgery 1, Right After Surgery 2, Day 3 Post Op Surgery 2, Day 5 Post Op Surgery 2.

Common Q #7: How long is recovery?
Well this question for me personally is like ‘How long is a piece of string?’. Each persons recovery is very different and I can only speak for my own. Having my second surgery was not planned and put a large bump in my recovery.
Milestones in recovery include (My updates in brackets),

  • 6 weeks post op – You can begin eating solid foods again and start chewing. Pre then you can only eat soft foods AKA food you do not need to chew. At 6 weeks your bones have fused and are much stronger as it takes 6 weeks to heal to be able to put pressure on them. (Currently while writing this I am 5 weeks post op from first surgery so my top jaw has nearly reached the 6 month mark. However my bottom jaw is only 2 weeks post op from my second surgery. So I have around a Month until I can eat solids again. Early August!)
  • 3 months post op – All swelling should finally be almost gone and your facial aesthetic is complete. (This part I am very excited for because my face is still currently feeling quite swollen). 
  • 6 months post op – Braces will be removed. (I am so lucky this week my orthodontist said I have about 12 weeks to go in braces so 3 months not 6 months. As I have had braces 3 times this does make sense. So Mid September braces off hopefully!)
  • 5 – 18 months – Nerve feeling returns slowly and in some cases you can remain numb in certain areas of your face for up to 18 months. In some cases people lose feeling in their face in some or all jaw areas permanently as a huge risk is the compromise of your facial nerves. Everyone’s facial nerves are in different positions, some peoples facial nerves even run through their jaw bones.  (Luckily I had a very clear margins around my facial nerves and have had a lot of feeling return already however with the second surgery on my lower jaw my lower lip and chin area are still very numb). 

For now that is all I can think to update you with. Please if you have any questions comment below. I will continue to update you all on my progress and particularly feelings about my facial changes. Please be respectful in comments and understand that saying things like ‘You look so much better/younger/healthier etc’ might come from great places but can make me feel very uncomfortable. I look different yes but my old face was not worse just different.

Sending lots of love to all of you,

Speak Soon,
Dani.

1 Comment

  1. Your comments about deformity are really interesting, it’s something we talk about a lot in our house as my wife has a very profound scoliosis and that’s regularly described as a deformity. It’s interesting how the medical professional speak about our bodies and the impact of that on how we feel about ourselves. Sending love through the rest of your recovery!

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