Day 340: FREEDOM!

Well, it’s been almost a year since my surgery and more than 2.5 years since I had my braces on, but the end is in sight. I mean, technically, the end is already here, but I’m still going to be working on whitening my choppers. The original plan was to do it professionally, but I have no money, so toothpaste it is.

But the point is: I’M DONE! And my face has truly undergone a pretty wild transformation. Admittedly, the orthodontics shows more immediate results than the surgery (since I didn’t opt to have the cosmetic chin-extension done, the jaw surgery itself was more practical than aesthetic). So let’s start with the inner workings.

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So as you can see, my face has been mushed about quite a bit because of this. You can see what the orthodontics alone has done to my teeth in picture 3 (taken two months before the surgery), and the change from pictures 1 to 3 seems more drastic, but it’s pretty amazing what the surgery did to the inner part of my jaw. It also added plenty of metal to my face. I’M SO METAL IT HURTS! (Seriously, it did hurt.)

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Truthfully, I expected the difference in my profile to be more stark than it was, but again, I chose not to have a chin implant put in. So I still don’t really have much of a chin, but that doesn’t bother me too much. The 2nd picture in this before-and-after was following the removal of 8 teeth. The third was the day before my surgery, the fourth was two weeks after the surgery. I’ve come a long way.

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This is my resting face, or what some might call my resting pissed face. I generally look pretty angry when I just let my teeth come to their natural position. Maybe it’s because I usually wasn’t in the best of moods when taking these pictures. I dunno. I think the most startling thing about these pictures is that my jaw definitely widened out after the surgery (compare my jaw width in pic 5 to pic 2 – it’s pretty noticeable).

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Here’s a glimpse into the teeth themselves, albeit one that I wish I could shrink a bit to get a better look. I’m going to ignore the coloration, which I’m still unhappy about (perhaps decades of Mountain Dew wasn’t a good idea after all!) but the change in teeth is pretty wild. And lest you think that, for the first two pictures, I was opening my mouth, I wasn’t. This was a closed-teeth smile. That’s what it used to look like. Jeebus.

So how do I feel after the whole ordeal? Well, my jaw still doesn’t open too far (I’ve only just barely cleared the lowest threshold for “normal” opening). It is beginning to hurt a little bit in general on the right side too. That’s disheartening because if it gets worse, I’m likely to have to have my disc removed in my jaw somewhere down the line (MORE SURGERY! JOY!) The right side IS finally popping a little bit – not massive pops but more than just crushing-movement in my mouth, they’re legitimate pops. Maybe that means the condyle is moving closer to where it needs to be. Who knows?

I can eat a burger, and that was the lowest my bar was set. I breathe much better, don’t snore at all, and haven’t really even been sick since the procedure. Not sure if that’s related, but having a wider opening certainly makes it easier when my air passages ARE congested.

Would I do it again? I have heard many people say that they’d gladly do the whole procedure again. (I’ve even read of people who have). No way in hell. It was miserable and my recovery has been atypical and unpleasant. I WILL thank myself for going through it (and I will thank my surgeon) when I’m fifty and not needing oxygen at nights, but still, I did it once and that’s all I really want.

Here’s the final product:

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Day 43 (I think): FREEDOM!

I think my surgeon implanted dimples during the surgery.
I think my surgeon implanted dimples during the surgery.

This day has been a long time coming. In fact, one could argue that I’ve lived my entire life and all of its ceaseless surprising twists and turns simply leading up to this very day. For today is … well, I’ll let Bill Pullman say it:

We will not go quietly into the night!

We will not vanish without a fight!

We’re going to live on!

We’re going to survive!

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!

Today, at just after 9am, the splint came out of my mouth at the trusty hands of Dr. M. I will not have to wear it anymore! He is very impressed with how everything’s going, saying I’ve been doing very well cleaning my teeth (something I’m pretty sure I’ve gone my entire life without ever hearing).

He told me further that the elective procedure I talked about a few updates ago doesn’t have a specific time window, so I wouldn’t have to do it at the 6 month mark (which we almost certainly couldn’t afford). So that might be something to bear in mind a couple of years down the line. Y’know, when we’re already paying for everyone else in our family to have dental work done.

Then I was shipped off immediately to Dr. O (the orthodontist) to get my archwire fixed (the wire across my top teeth, which was cut for the surgery). He also put in some bands. I was told I’d still have bands, which I grumbled at, but it turns out these aren’t so bad. They’re further in the back and their job isn’t to keep my jaws closed, they’re to pull teeth in a certain way. So I’m still able to open my mouth even with the bands (I can even eat with them!) I’ll basically only be taking them off to brush.

The most annoying part of today is the fact that I spent four years of speech and voice training. I know all of my scantion and frictives and plosives. Yet I can hear myself speaking and lisping, and making weird sounds. It’s driving me nuts. Someone who didn’t spend all of college reciting stupid speech poems about Tony Danza and Tina Turner (Stacey knows what I’m talking about) would probably not care or even notice. It’s driving me nuts.

But all in all, today is a good day, although my jaw is quite sore from opening it as wide as I can for long periods at a time. I celebrated by having my favorite soup (french onion from Costco actually) and some garlicky potatoes I made that are… interesting? And chocolate milk.

I leave for NY tomorrow where I was supposed to do some training, but have found that I’ll probably only have a couple of hours of actual office time. So…. okay, getting to say goodbye to friends and co-workers it is!

PAIN: 2

INCONVENIENCE: 2

REGRET FACTOR: 0 (this may finally become negative when I start routinely enjoying what I’m eating, but for now, it’s only neutral)

My teeth are supposed to… touch?

I admit to having a pretty crappy memory, but I cannot remember any point in my life when my front top teeth touched my front bottom teeth. Even when I jut my lower jaw out to meet the top one. The teeth themselves had flayed so far out that they still wouldn’t touch. I’ve used my back teeth to chew for as long as I can remember.

Well, over the last month, I’m proud to report that MY TEETH TOUCH (when I jut my jaw out). The first time it happened I thought I had something in my mouth. Those teeth haven’t felt sensation like that, well, ever. And then they only just grazed in passing. Now, I can put them together and when I chew food, I’ve actually had it a time or two where I chewed “too hard” and hurt my teeth a little as they bashed into each other. Well THAT’S going to take some getting used to.

Ortho appt next week where *hopefully* I’ll get the final okay that Dec 21 will be my surgery date. I probably won’t get that confirmation yet (at the last appointment, he said it would probably be October before we know for sure), but I’m optimistic. I also have a couple of friends from the east coast who may be coming out to help, so I want to, you know, let them make travel plans. But I’m not in charge.

Anyway, WEIRD.

Life with Braces

When you see people with braces, I think there’s the idea that you’ve seen them after they’ve had braces on for a while. At least, when I see people with braces, it looks like their teeth are mostly straight and just in need of tweaking. So the braces themselves look like a more-or-less straight line of metal. Mine look horrifying.

They’re like a picket fence where every third slat is either dug way into the ground, sticking way up, or tilted off to the side. There is nothing appealing about them at all. The top one are transparent (but having silver-colored wire really negatives the “transparency” of them) and the bottom is silver. They still look like somebody randomly stapled things to parts of my mouth. I know it’s been three days, but man I will be a happy man when these come off.

I’m having very little pain associated with them, thankfully, other than some mild headaches and massive fatigue. The fatigue could be unrelated, who knows, but I feel so drained. Might be because I’m eating probably 50-60% of the calories I normally do because it takes forever to eat. I’m a slow eater to begin with, but combine that with using only my wisdom teeth to chew right now, and it’s pretty boring to watch me eat. Hopefully by next week I’ll be on a more “normal” diet.

Also, flossing sucks. There, I said it.

This really isn’t all that bad, though I don’t like the feeling that there’s something stuck in my teeth (that’s the best I can equate braces with – the feeling that my mouth is full of something it shouldn’t be). Only a few more years!

The Final Day of Oral Freedom

Tomorrow I go to my orthodontist Dr. O to get my braces put on. I personally don’t care about aesthetics all that much (though when I look at the pictures taken in-office of my teeth from the underside, I find that this is not at all true), but I did opt to get the clear braces instead of the “normal” ones. First, they weren’t any different in price. Also, I want to make some of these transitions easier for my kids. They don’t like change all that much, and considering how much change I’ll be going through in the next year, if I can ease them into things, it’ll be better for everyone involved.

Braces aren’t a big deal – it seems like half the kids in the country have them when they’re growing up and they do just fine. However, in trying to actually make this entire process a truly healthy one for my face/teeth/jaw, I’m likely going to cut out soda. I was initially going to say for the entire duration, but I’m going to be realistic – especially since my boss was nice enough to buy me 2 large cases of Dew when I moved into my new office a couple of weeks ago. But the plan is to cut it out nonetheless because soda + braces = not a good combination down the line. I will also probably enjoy AT LEAST two pouches of microwaved popcorn tonight while I still don’t have to pick out the remnants later.

Truth be told, I’d been on the verge of cutting it soda (again) anyway. On the way home from my San Francisco trip with Landen, I bought a 1L bottle of Dew, and by the time I’d finished, my stomach was just miserable. I know, I know, moderation. But I used to have more than that every day with no ill effects. I guess a lifetime of not giving a crap about my insides has caught up to me. So the soda will be gone for at least a while – if all goes well through it will be through this summer.

Then we play the waiting game – see just when I’ll have to have my teeth removed to create more room for pulling/tugging, etc. There’ll be some flexibility with time, which is a good thing as I have a couple of MAJOR disc golf tournaments coming up (a 3-day A tier right in Tahoe at the end of June, and Worlds in August) and I’d rather not be dealing with extreme mouth pain during those events. As it is I’ll be dealing with the fact that I’ve become terribly out of shape.

I will take some “before” pictures of my mouth/face (in addition to the ones I’d already taken in Dr. O’s office) and probably post them. I am less sure about posting pictures of my recovery after surgery. a) they won’t be pretty and b) as was evidence by my ill-fated “DPOD” experiment, when I put a daily responsibility on myself, I fail, and that’s without coughing up blood every day. But three years from now, it’ll be nice to look at a before/after comparison.

So yeah, let’s roll. Feel free to comment along with these posts. When it comes to surgery time, I’ll appreciate the banter, even if it’s Aaron saying I have a dumb choice of something or other (pain meds?)

Today, I start a journey…

Today, I started a journey, and it all happened in an orthodontist’s office. Dr. O.

Of course, the journey started years and years and years and years ago, when I was thigh-high to an averaged-size adult. I had gone to another orthodontist, whose name is forever lost in time, and he gave me the prognosis as being an excellent tongue-thruster. I was advised I’d need to go to a “swallowing specialist” and then I would need braces. He also saw my twin brother. What happened next is still a matter of debate.

In my mother’s memory, I complained so much that they just got the necessary work done for Mitch – he had a more immediate orthodontic need. For my memory – and remember, this is the same memory that produced a very vivid impression of Mitch removing my stitches from an accident I had when I was 4 – my parents said they didn’t have the money for both of us to receive treatment and Mitch got it, again because of the immediacy factor. Anyhow, I never got any sort of treatment. That was when I was around 7.

Fast forward until a couple of years ago, when my dentist, Dr. B, suggested that I might want to see an orthodontist. He also was the first expert who uttered the term “surgery” to me. I’d heard from friends/family/others some rumblings that I might need it, but never had a person who actually knew much about teeth confirm it. He did. And he referred me to the aforementioned Dr. O, who took a whole bunch of photos, X-rays, and pink-goop-molds of my teeth. I’ve always known that my teeth were UGLY (as an acting major in college, I was told never to get them fixed as it gave me a great “character actor” look), but it never really bothered me looking from the front. But seeing huge pictures on a wall displaying my teeth in ghastly detail from the underside, the top-side, and wide open – my God I’ve seen assassinations that were less traumatizing. Before even getting all the results back, he pretty much assured me that surgery was in order and he referred me to an maxillofacial surgeon named Dr. M.

After more tests, pictures, Xrays, and discussion, Dr. M. confirmed that I’d need orthognathic surgery. I nodded since I’d heard that that’s where I was heading. Then he actually told me what that entailed.

And that’s when the shoe dropped. The thousand pound shoe. Onto my soul.

The process is awful and there is exactly no part of this I am looking forward to. The rough timeline of what to expect:

 

Today – final molds made of my teeth

Next Wed – braces go on. I’ll be one of those “cool” adults who rocks braces this late in life.

A few months from now – after my teeth have been pulled into better place with clear braces (I’m so going to rock white after Labor Day, bitches!), Dr. M. will do the first procedure, the “easy” one. He will remove eight (8!) of my teeth: the wisdoms and I believe the inner bicuspids. Then they will reattach the braces to do more pulling and getting stuff in line.

About a year from now – the surgery.

 

My work has come through BIG time and agreed to pay/reimburse me for all my regular expenses. We may have a bridge to cross if there are complications, but either way, I at least can have this procedure done without worry that it will cripple us financially.

Oh, I suppose I neglected to mention WHY I’m getting it done. Is it simply because I have horrible looking teeth? No, my vanity has taken plenty of other hits with my stomach issues and Middle Earth complexion. Dr. M. showed me some xrays of my jaw/neck/throat. The average width of the windpipe is (from memory) 12mm. Mine gap, because my jaws are essentially separating and are no longer parallel, has been constricted to about 5.5mm. That’s less than half. The result of which will utlimately be sleep apnea, eventually leading to needing oxygen at night. There are also problems that are only recently beginning such as pain while chewing very difficult things (such as nut-bars or tough steaks). I’ve long had clicking in my jaws too, which I can’t imagine to be “good”. These will all be fixed. Other secondary benefits will be aesthetics, improved smell, and maybe even less fatigue (even though I am not actually waking fully up, the doctor believes my body is waking up for short periods each night).

So where does that leave us? With a blog. Why am I blogging? I’m not the first person to have this surgery. Hell, I’m not the first to blog about this surgery.This guy already did, and he’s a veritable font of great information. I’m doing it for a few reasons. 1) To chronicle for myself what I’m going through. This will be, by far, the single biggest decision I’ve ever made about my health. This will also almost certainly be the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life (and remember, I saw the movie version of Mama Mia in the theaters). 2) For the first few weeks after surgery, I won’t have much else to do, so I figure blogging will be a healthy way to keep connected with the outside world. After all, there’s only so much GTA V I can play, right? Right? 3) I hope it will entertain. Even in the depths of self-pity, I hope to be able to make a few people smile.

The blogs won’t be too frequent at first, but I’ll try to keep it up. I’ve made a new category (“Surgery”) on the bottom-left of the blog, so you can click on that if you just want to filter out everything but tooth/jaw/face posts.

Come along for the ride and strap in. It’s gonna be something.