One Year and Counting

The one year milestone is finally here! Some days I thought it would never come. I can’t thank you guys enough for all your support and love during this crazy process. It certainly feels good to have it all behind me. Instead of writing my thoughts down, I figured a video update would be better. If you’re like me and you are somewhere in the middle of your double jaw journey/climb/torture keep your head up. It will get better, I promise.

So here are some creepy, in yo’ face pictures of my new face.

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And of course the most amazing person who helped me through all of it!
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Pearly White Bliss

Now this is the post I’ve been wanting to write for months! After one year and 2 months of braces (for the third time), double jaw surgery, and a variety of cool lisps, the journey with my teeth has by and large come to an end. I guess the million dollar question here is: was it all worth it? Are you happy with the results?

The answer is simple, and one most of you probably expected. Elongating my bottom jaw while at the same time expanding and lifting the top jaw has changed my life in so many positive ways. For one, my TMJ is gone, I may clench at night because of the retainers or stress, but the daily grinding headaches have disappeared. My bite is corrected, and I’ve finally discovered the meaning of “biting INTO” something, since I used to be a sideways eater. That is, I always had to attack food with my molars. And lastly, it’s an aesthetic change that has actually given me a nice chin and profile. I’ve always tried to be happy and grateful for what I have, but it would be wrong to say I’ve never struggled with being self-conscious. With fixing my bite and giving me a better jawline, I feel even happier with my own brand of beauty.

Goodbye Metal Mouth
This is an appt that anyone who has had braces longs for and dreads all at the same time. After settling into my new face the last thing I wanted to do was jeopardize the progress. Luckily removing the brackets and wires took literally LESS THAN 2 minute which included most of the heavy pressure. My teeth have been very sore and sensitive since the surgery, but I’m happy to say the removal of the bands was quick and a walk in the park compared to post-surgery pain. For the following three hours, my orthodontist cleaned off the glue, polished my teeth, and took TWELVE impressions. Now the obscene number of impressions is not normal, but they couldn’t get a good read on my back teeth which is why it took so many times. By the end of the appointment I had two clear retainers (that I must wear constantly except when eating or drinking) and a free facial complements of all the impression goo stuck to my face. The back of my front tooth had chipped as well, luckily I was able to get that filled within a day or two at my dentist office. Once I saw the X-Rays, I couldn’t believe how much they had elongated my bottom jaw: (top photo is before, bottom photo is after)

xray

xray side

Here is a frontal of my new bionic face:

xray front

Looking Back

When reflecting on all the rough bumps in this journey, the following are probably the worst I had to deal with:
1) The first 10 days after surgery (I was basically a pukey, cranky blob that barely slept)
2) Nerve regeneration-my bottom lip still feels a little numb, but the painful slow process of regaining nerve feeling was slow and came in a variety of different ways (tingling, stabbing pain, hot/cold sensations)
3) Eating sushi and my transformer hogging all the rice. In all honesty, eating by itself was somewhat of a chore, and you always had to be careful not to let food fall out of your mouth

Current Status
Since getting the braces off, I’ve had to wear two clear retainers on the top and bottom. At first I experienced a sexy lisp with it, but just like everything else it slowly went away with time. The retainer was painful for the first few days and I still experience some pain when removing it, but my orthodontist said all of this was to be expected. I’m not able to bite into anything too hard yet (like apples) but I am chewing normally and am enjoying the no longer forbidden snack that is popcorn. I try my best not to clench my teeth throughout the day, but it can be hard to resist the urge with the retainers always touching. Luckily, it’s very difficult to even tell if I’m wearing the retainers:

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What does the future hold?
Here’s my short term plan: wear clear retainers 24/7 for six months, then switch to nighttime retainer and wear every night. After everything I’ve been through, wearing a retainer is an easy commitment to keep my teeth in place. I suppose my biggest fear is that my body will randomly one day decide not to like the metal in my mouth, and I may need some kind of surgery to get the nails/plates removed. Hopefully if that does ever happen, my bone will be healed enough to handle it. All in all, I’m so relieved to finally be at this part in the journey, and I’m truly enjoying eating what I want and looking how I want. I’ll add some final before and after pictures to the picture timeline, but for now here’s what I look like:

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Thank you to all that have supported me through this journey, your encouragement gave me the courage to properly deal with my face-off!

6th Month: Braced and banded…but not for long!

I’m not going to lie, I stopped counting the days of recovery months ago. I don’t feel that the time went by quickly, but recovery issues have mellowed out and are more of a nuisance now. Much has happened in the three months since I posted, I went to Ireland (experienced no face pain on the journey), finished my military contract, and am now two weeks away from graduating with my Bachelors. All the while I’ve been combating drooling, bands, daily teeth cleaning, and lip pain. Here’s a quick recap of what you’ve missed:

The Screw Scare

Around the third/fourth month post-op, my orthodontist was toying with the idea of screwing temporary screws into my top left jaw to pull my molars up because my left side had healed slightly further down than my right. These modern day torture devices are better known as TADs, or temporary anchorage devices. Here’s a graphic visual representation of this treatment:

TADs

LUCKILY, instead of jumping right into that treatment plan, she decided to band my top/bottom jaws together to see if my right side could come further down. I made significant progress here, but had to stop wearing the bands two weeks into the treatment because it was causing a strange painful sensation around my canine tooth and nose. In other words, the bands were literally pulling my top jaw off. So we took a break from that and worked on placing bands all around my mouth, I’m starting to think she just spins a wheel each week and depending on what it lands on determines the band placement. After a month break, she replaced the bands in hopes that it would pull the right side down far enough to match the left. The top comparison is from the 3rd month, and the bottom pictures is current:

teeth comp

mouth

I’m scheduled to get the braces removed May 19th, so that only leaves us with about two weeks to yank down the right side of my face. I’m optimistic because these bands work incredibly quickly, but we won’t know how much they’ve moved until another week or two.

The Bandit

I have consistently been in bands for roughly three months now, and their placement changes about every one/two weeks. If you’re planning on getting banded, make sure you listen to your body and call your orthodontist immediately if you have pain in/around your jaw bones. Bands that were too strong actually did break my friend’s newly formed jawbone, and it has caused a world of problems for him since. Here are also some other tips and tricks when wearing bands:

1) Drink heavily. Just kidding! But really, these bad boys are painful…
2) Change them out according to your orthodontist’s instructions.
3) Clean your teeth as often as you can.
4) Try not to take your frustration/pain out on your loved ones. It’s just not healthy!

Fat Lip

Recovery is long, and it’s important to know that you will feel pain/discomfort daily. For me, the thing that irks me the most is the nerve regeneration. My bottom lip consistently feels swollen (or non existent at times), and light touches/grazes to certain parts of my face are still excruciating. I also get stabbing pains near/under my nose, but luckily they pass quickly. It helps to loosen your lips up, like working out a muscle everyday to improve its flexibility and strength. Closing my lips and keeping them in a resting position has become easier and more natural, but the awkward, limited control makes me self-conscious and impatient.

Eating like a Lady

Hah, eating. During the year after recovery it should be called “trying to keep food from falling out of your mouth.” Eating still takes concentration, but I do feel that I’m slowly getting back to eating like a normal homo sapien. I have been unsuccessful when eating burgers or steaks, and find that biting into things is terrifying and largely creates a mess. That being said, from the outside I look like a fairly normal person when I eat, but on the inside I’m using everything short of dark magic to look normal. I really feel that it will be immensely easier once the transformer is completely out of my mouth, for that will free up at least 3/4 of the room for actual food consumption.

I’m happy to say that most of the swelling has decreased, and I’ve been able to resume all normal physical activities like running (which I never do anyways). I’ve also been able to resume heavy training with pole acrobatics and dance, and that has done wonders for my mood and motivation.

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All in all I’m happy with my progress so far, and am more than ready to be de-banded on May 19th. My biggest fears at this point are: the screws/metal causing pain or coming loose anytime in the future, have disgustingly yellow teeth that will be permanently stained after braces, my teeth somehow magically shifting even with using my retainer, and having to fight to the death with a leprechaun. I’ll be posting again soon, but until then here are some progress pictures for your enjoyment:

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Day 84 (3rd Month): Still kicking

Hello everyone! I’ve missed writing to you. In case you’re wondering what dark hole I crawled into since my last post, I believe it’s called college. Well, work + college + graduate applications + ice cream. But hey why go into detail, when it can all be summed up in one simple picture?

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So, in the world of solid food and teeth alignment, much has happened since I last blogged. I’m lucky enough to visit the Orthodontist about every 2 weeks, where she either checks my progress or slightly adjusts my saturn wire (on the top jaw). In the past month my bite has improved quite a bit, going from only my back two teeth touching to most of teeth touching when I bite down. Gum/teeth soreness is pretty constant, as well as the large imprint the saturn wire has made in my cheeks. Here’s a comparison of my teeth one month ago (open bite on top) and now (on bottom):

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And here’s a quick recap on my healing process:

Things That Make Me Happy
No TMJ pain!
Chewing-I can open my mouth wide enough to bite into soft foods, and can chew crunchy solid foods (like chips)
Little/no swelling- I still wake up with some swelling on a daily basis, but it passes with time
Being able to close my mouth somewhat naturally
Being able to reach my back molars to floss/brush
Being able to pop my ears if needed (man I missed that!)

Unexpected Developments
-So perhaps the weirdest side effect I’ve experienced so far is choking. I’d say I choke about once per meal, which is way more than normal. Apparently my new face needs to adjust to swallowing food again.
– Spitting. Gross, I know. It doesn’t happen often when I speak, but can be a regular occurence when I’m eating if I’m not extremely careful
– Not a lot of muscle control in my bottom lip. I can’t swish mouthwash or water without it spilling everywhere, and if I start to drink something too quickly (because I’m dying of thirst), it usually spews out the sides.
– Tugging, wiping, pushing my nose is still very painful so I try to avoid that area when I can
– My bottom incision likes to get caught in my back brackets because apparently they’re best buds, and that causes some pain and swelling
– The dead man’s bone in my lower jaw (tiny nob of donor bone) hasn’t fully integrated into my bone, but luckily it’s not noticeable…maybe I’ll name it something….

Overall, I’m feeling really healthy (especially since I’ve cut down on my wheat intake exponentially) and I’m back to exercising like normal. However, there are still a few things that are completely off limits at this point:

DO NOTs
– Chew nuts or lettuce (goodbye salads!)
– Put a muzzle on this child next to me at Starbucks (apparently that’s not socially acceptable…)
– Sleep on my belly/face
– Sing (because it’s really painful for some reason)
– Engage in any crazy sports like Rugby or table tennis 😉
– Talk to ANYONE after consuming ANYTHING, otherwise they’ll be face to face with something like this:

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Although it’s been a busy month, I’m still so grateful that I’m healing and that I have such amazing people around me. To include the best man I’ll ever know, Tyler. Incredible? Yes. Sane? Highly debatable…well I hope another month doesn’t fly by before I can post again. Thank you to everyone who continues to support me throughout this crazy journey!

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Day 55: Captain Crunch

Chips. Shrimp. Cereal. Not all good together, but separately, when you’ve regained some chewing ability…are amazing! I’m happy to report that the long weekend coupled with my new chewing escapades has lifted me to new heights. I drool less, smile more, and can even sometimes close my mouth when I chew. Now nuts and candy are still my arch enemies, so I do my best to avoid them. My jaws wear easily, so I can only be Captain Crunch one meal a day. But that’s more than enough for me.

I don’t have too much to complain about anymore, but since I am a woman I’m sure I’ll find something to whine about. ;p  I’d say the hardest part at this stage is managing expectations. I have a huge open bite (see below), some swelling, eating still takes about twice as long for me, and I’m very limited when it comes to exercise. Oh and my zombie impulses are much more frequent now. My jaws jerk forward or twitch a few times a day, but luckily it’s not noticeable to anyone but me. This is my natural bite, I can adjust it to fit perfectly but it takes some effort.

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On the bright side, I can open my mouth much wider now with little to no pain. And awkward picture:

open mouth

Profile:

open side side closed

I should only have four more months in braces, and then I’m home free! I just hope the orthodontist can correct my bite in that short amount of time. I must say, it is really nice to be able to lay down flat and still have a bottom jawline…not to mention TMJ pain is gone! So happy I went through with this.

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Day 53 (Week 8): Wake Me Up

There’s a popular song out right now called “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. One of the main lines in the chorus is “Wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser and I’m older,” and this has become my theme song within the past week or so. Wake me up six months from now when my bones are healed, my military contract is done, and I’m relaxing on summer vacation before starting graduate school. I’ve been dying to post an update for awhile, but this first week back at work and school has rendered me useless. I had thought I’d be prepared to start 10-12 hour work days since I had almost two months of rest, but let’s just I was SADLY mistaken. But when I really thought about it, the thing I miss most is getting lost. I love getting lost in a moment, a conversation, a story, dance, or nature, and since the surgery my “lost” moments have been few and far between. Most of my outlets for stress have been temporarily suspended from my life, and when I do get a chance to let loose, the pain rushes to my side to put me in check. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a WONDERFUL past two months, but sometimes it’s hard to shake the disappointment when I’m reminded of my sore bones, damaged nerves, and sensitive tissue. Here’s a quick recap for you:

Pain

I’m fairly certain there’s an invisible donkey that follows me everywhere, and sometimes he decides to be an ass (hah!) and kick me in the face. Since my orthodontic adjustment last week, my teeth have ached with a new ferocity I hadn’t thought possible. After 8+ hours of talking at work my face is usually hot, pulsing, and puffy. There is good news though! I see some small progress everyday. Also, I don’t have ANY of the TMJ pain I had in the past! I’m very hopeful that this has gone away for good.

Zombies!

Apparently I’m in the stage of healing that my friend has named “the zombie stage.” During this phase, my jaw muscles like to twitch and try to clamp down on top of each other. Or sometimes they actually try to twerk. And then I have to remind them that they ARE NOT Miley Cyrus and it usually stops after a few seconds. These sudden movements are very painful, but luckily the pain doesn’t last too long.

Eating

I remember the excitement I felt right as the splint was removed, I could chew again! Really? THAT was a blonde moment. I couldn’t chew jello if I tried. I started with soft foods and many napkins, and now that my jaw muscles have become a little more accustomed to my face, I don’t end up wearing ALL my food. However, I would say it’s one of the most frustrating aspects of the healing process. For example, I have to cut a banana into about twenty pieces to eat it. It takes me at least four times longer to eat something than you. Now I know this sounds fascinating to watch, but even observers halfway through my eating process are exacerbated and just want me to finish. It’s like I’m running a marathon or tackling a shark. Come on Rachel just get it down!

Numbness

Luckily the feeling has just about returned to every part on the OUTSIDE of my face. However, I still can’t feel any part of my gums, which makes flossing…interesting. Hopefully I’ll get my next cleaning like this, gum numbness makes a dentist visit sound way more enjoyable.

Hardware

Well, I’ve seen the orthodontist three times in one week, which must be a record somewhere. Luckily she hasn’t had to make any adjustments since removing the splint nor has she had to put bands in. She’s just been checking my progress. One big concern for me is that only my left side touches when I bite down, but she says this is “normal” and will adjust it with the brackets. The Saturn wire on my top jaw is in place to keep the teeth widened, so they don’t crowd each other and impede bone healing. I go back 28 January for more torture and fun!

It’s not a tumor!

I also discovered that the lump under my left jaw is bone, NOT swelling. The oral surgeon said it should heal within a few months. Hmm…I not sure how normal this is because the bone seems a little lost….shouldn’t be ON my jawline?? Apparently it’s not an issue, but I plan to keep a close eye on it.

Selfies

Another strange phenomenon has also been happening recently. For some reason, my bottom lip likes to chill behind my top teeth, which isn’t the most flattering thing in the world. I’m hoping once the teeth are better aligned my bottom lip will know where to go. Example A (left side is relaxed, and right side I’m forcing my mouth closed):

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Also my scars are healing much faster now that I’ve switched to using cocoa butter. Look at that jawline!

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I do have one confession to make though, looking at my profile head-on is still somewhat of a shock. I’m very blessed and happy with the way I look, but I feel somewhat uneasy when I look at pictures of myself. I’m not disappointed, just apprehensive for some reason. I know other mouth cripples say it takes some time to adjust to your new face, and they were definitely right.

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Day 46: Wax on, wax off

I thought I was in the clear when it came to pain and discomfort. Then I spent roughly four hours in the orthodontist’s office on Monday. The soreness and face discomfort are manageable; however, I do have new wires that have decided to wage world war three on my cheeks. The orthodontist wasn’t able to properly cut the wires in the back of my mouth, and I have now unsuccessfully used two boxes of wax to trying to dull the pain of scraping my incisions. The wires weren’t properly cut because there is no room for wire cutters way back there, only needle-like wires and my flesh. Needless to say I’m going back tomorrow at 9:30 to get this thing sorted out.

Funny thing is, after my first day back at work, and inadvertently eating a good portion of wax, I needed some relief. So my loving boyfriend bought some oral gel with benzocaine in hopes to numb my incisions into submission. Aand I may have numbed my entire mouth…by accident:

numbness

 

So now that I can’t feel my tongue, I’m back in the land of constant drooling. I thought I was done with this stage?! Looks like I’m going to need to take matters into my own hands and self medicate:

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No I’m not going to drink the whole thing! Just enough to not feel my face…. nothing like a jug of wine on a Wednesday to numb the pain….we’re classy over here in Hawaii.