I always had this awkward smile. I had excessive gums and my lower jaw was too far back. While I never felt as though anyone treated me differently, it was something I was always very conscious of. My face just didn’t seem to fit together the way it should, and when things are out of alignment there can be potential future health implications.
It was something I spent hours googling, and often compared myself to others. I thought it was just me and something I had to live with. And, I would have lived with it because I was too scared to think about the process of having it fixed and how much it would cost.
When I was with the father of my children, I never felt as though I could do anything for myself or that I deserved anything more. You can easily get caught up in a life of catering to someone else’s needs while ignoring your own. When we split I felt this insane amount of strength and empowerment. The freedom to make my own choices and find my own path. Once I had overcome the shock of the split and settled my children into a new home and life, I decided it was time to do a little research and see if fixing my smile would be achievable.
The first point of call was the local dentist. I was nervous as I had never really verbalised my issues with my smile until then. I felt as though if I didn’t say anything, no one would notice. Luckily, I found a a lovely and understanding dentist. She handed me a card for an orthodontist called Dr Salmon and told me to make an appointment just to have a chat. Well, what can I say. This man is a superstar and definitely not the only superstar I met on this massive journey. He told me he could fix my teeth with braces but what I really needed was double jaw surgery. What? Yes. Break both my jaws and put them where they are supposed to be. Ok. Breathe.
I trusted him instantly and I was then referred to the second superstar in my story, Dr Benjamin Grave, an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Yes, Dr Salmon was right, my jaws needed to be broken and repositioned. But, how much would this cost? I was a single mum. Fortunately in South Australia we have an amazing teaching hospital and the Craniofacial Unit cover these types of surgeries through Medicare. There is a year waiting list but you need to wear braces prior so you would have to wait anyway.
To begin the process I had to go back to the original dentist and have 3 back teeth removed to make more room in my mouth. This was not fun. This is the point where there was no going back. I sat in the chair, shaking as I was told there would be a bit of rocking and pulling on my teeth. Can I keep them? Yes. I’m weird like that, I like my mementos.
Braces are not cheap. However, I was able to pay them off over the course of 3 years and private health cover (and my mum) helped lessen the financial burden. I went for clear on the top and full metal jacket on the bottom.
During the period of braces I had a series of planning meetings at the Women’s and Children’s hospital and Royal Adelaide Hospital with Dr Grave, the famous Dr David David and various medical students. Sitting in a room with dozens of eyes staring at your mouth is quite a surreal experience. There were multiple XRays, moulds, visits with an ENT, Speech Therapist and even a social worker. Everyone was on the same page and worked as part of a team. I have never seen anything as professional and well organised as the Craniofacial Unit.
Somewhere along the journey I met the man I will be spending the rest of my life with. He fell in love with me with braces and my old face and was my rock during the final stages of the process.
As the operation got closer, I started asking more questions. I found out my bottom jaw would be moved forward and my top jaw would be moved upwards. They would literally cut my jaws and put them somewhere else. These would be held together with surgical plates. Once again I googled photos for before and after and became fascinated (obsessed) by the process.
Being a public patient is never straightforward. The first day my surgery was booked I arrived at hospital early, on my own as my partner and mum had to juggle my children. On an empty stomach and feeling rather hangry, I was gowned up and sat waiting. I spoke to the anaesthetic who declared it was a big surgery. For him to say that made me suddenly realise this was a massive leap. The first night I would need to stay in the intensive care unit and be regularly monitored, after all they were rearranging my face. After waiting for hours, I was told there was no bed for me and I would have to reschedule. All those nerves and working myself up and I was sent home. Someone needed the bed more than I did and that was OK. This wasn’t an emergency. I drank a bottle of wine.
Then I waited. The second operation was scheduled and when I arrived at the hospital I was told “someone should have cancelled this, we have no beds”. I was shaking. I went home. OK. Another bottle of wine.
The third time was very last minute, there was a cancellation and they called me in. This time I was casual. I was prepared to go home and I had wine in the fridge. Not this time. This time I went under and I woke up vomiting blood. This is what I was most scared of but it didn’t hurt and wasn’t the worst part. I wasn’t sure whether my mouth would be wired shut but it was held together by a few rubber bands on my braces. They handed me a suction and sucking the blood out of my mouth was the only thing I had control over.
After hours I was wheeled down to the intensive care unit. Another superhero entered the room in the shape of a nurse. I wish I could remember her name but I was doped up on pain killers. She cleaned my face and calmed me down. My partner came into the room with a look on his face and told me I was still beautiful. It makes me tear up when I remember this. I think he was just happy to see I had made it to the other side. I had a button attached to the vein in my hand which I could press whenever I needed Fentanyl. This meant I wasn’t in any pain at all and most of the nerves on my face were numb. My mouth was full of blood and I couldn’t swallow. How was I going to get through this? What had I done?
The anaesthetist came in to see how I was doing. He apologised for the massive bruise on my head. I could hardly open my mouth to speak but I joked for him to look at my face, does a bruise make any difference to me right now?
I couldn’t stand up by myself but there was a time where I was busting for the toilet. More busting than I’ve ever been in my life. On went the hospital sticky socks and a chair with toilet bowl was placed in my room. I sat there frozen for 20 minutes because I didn’t want anyone to hear me. My body wouldn’t work. It was a funny moment in a painful situation.
(This is my final XRay and shows all of the metal in my mouth)
Once I was able to stay in the normal ward I hooked up my Foxtel and was able to waddle around and take myself to the toilet. I couldn’t eat, in fact I lost 10 kilos in a week (unfortunately I have put it all, and more, back on now). I can never eat jelly ever again for the rest of my life. Jelly, broth and cordial was about all there was for me. They gave me doses of oxycodone but it had to be liquid, and it burned my throat on the way down. The nurses were all to be admired. They do not get the credit they deserve. After a couple of days my face swelled up like a watermelon. If you think having your wisdom teeth removed is bad, this is something else entirely.
When I finally got to go home it was a relief even though I had to sleep in an awkward position. I didn’t have many painkillers except for Panadeine 7 as my face was still numb. I was lucky to have support from my mum and my partner, and when I could finally eat a pureed burger patty it was the best meal I ever had. The Auto IQ Ninja was a lifesaver! I ninja-ed anything and everything.
Somehow I was proposed to during this period. That is true love right!? My face eventually healed but there was one problem. Since my bottom jaw was brought forward my chin was too far back. This would require an additional surgery, not as bad but still a surgery. The muscles in my jaws were still spasming and I was starting to feel pain.
Back I went. This time I felt as though it was harder. I had used all my strength for the previous surgery and I was scared to go back. The student anaesthetist couldn’t find my vein and I was crying on the operating table as I felt like a pin cushion. It was cold. I remember not wanting to wake up and felt as though I was fighting it, I didn’t want to go through the healing process again. I saw my children and my partner in my mind and suddenly I was awake, talking jibberish to the nurse asking if I was dead. I said I couldn’t breathe. I was having a panic attack. I wasn’t spewing this time and was given some kind of anti-psychotic. Calm. Breathe.
This surgery was noticeable straight away. My family saw me and were amazed that I had a chin. I went straight to the ward and came home after one night. I was swollen but not as bad as the first time around. I gave myself time to heal and besides a bit of numbess in my chin and my jaw feeling stiff sometimes, there haven’t been too many long term side effects. The braces came off and I was given a permanent wire behind my teeth to keep them in place. Plus, I got married earlier this year!
Recently I had my final visit with Dr Grave and he said to me that so many things could have gone wrong, but none of them did. He is one talented human being and should be proud of his work. This is when I realised what a huge thing I had done and how strong I was to get through it.
Thank you to everyone who was part of this process with me, it changed my life for the better. If you are considering having double jaw surgery and have any questions just let me know x