Underbite Surgery: My Journey to a New Smile
In the winter of 2012, when I was 19 years old, I successfully underwent surgery to fix an underbite that I had since I was born. As you can imagine, it was a very long process – one I had to wait for until I was at least 18; the jawbone continues to grow until that point, so surgery is out of the question until that process is complete.
In the days and weeks leading to the surgery, I remember being nervous about it. I would compulsively do research and read internet forums on the topic. However, aside from the facts and statistics, all I needed was a success story to make me excited about the whole thing; to look forward to the end of the tunnel, rather than anxiously dwelling on the trip there. Having said that, here is my story – for those who are either preparing for the procedure or curious about it.
I was never terribly self-conscious about the underbite; it was only noticeable from certain angles and I never had any trouble chewing or eating. However, my orthodontist told me it would not just be a cosmetic ordeal. She said that because my teeth were not aligned and meeting the proper way, there was a chance that – years down the road – they would begin to grind and wear each other down. I could also have difficulty chewing in the future.
By that point, it did not take much more to convince me. The whole thing about my teeth wearing down made me nervous and I wasn’t going to turn down a better smile either. It took a bit of a fight to have the insurance company jump on board as they saw the surgery as completely cosmetic. But fortunately in the end I was able to get everything, except for braces, covered.
I was in braces for two years: one before surgery and one more afterwards. Most of the teeth were moved around beforehand so they would fit once the top jaw was shifted forward. Everything after was just finishing touches and keeping them in place.
Braces weren’t as bad as I anticipated. I got used to eating and the overall feeling of them within the first two weeks. But there were two things that were a bit of a pain in the neck:
I had to have some rather bulky caps placed on my molars for a few weeks. Once my teeth were close to where they needed to be, the caps were used to stop my bottom teeth from hitting the braces on the top. They were never painful, just inconvenient.
The second pain in the neck was a pesky tooth that never grew in. This needed to come up before the surgery, so I had a procedure done where a small chain was attached to the tooth. The idea was to use the braces to pull the tooth up as the rest moved to their correct positions. What we didn’t realize, however, was that the tooth had a hooked root - meaning that as we were trying to pull it up out of the gum, it was pulling the rest of the teeth down with it. It’s kind of hard to describe, but you can see what happened in the pictures below:
There are two main types of procedures for fixing an underbite: some people will need to have the upper jaw shifted forward, while others will need to have both the upper and lower shifted. Fortunately for me, I just needed to have the top jaw done; I have heard that the recovery process is much easier for that procedure. It is also done without any external scarring, which I was pleased to hear as well. For curiosity’s sake, here is a video that explains the surgery. Keep in mind that my procedure only involved the upper jaw.
I woke up early and hungry to head to the hospital. (I had to fast the night before) Everything was very quick: they did a brief physical to make sure nothing had changed (weight, blood pressure, etc) and I was hooked up with an IV. The doctor arrived to explain everything that was going to happen. Not long after that, the nurse started the anesthesia and I was out within a few short minutes.
I was in the operating room and out cold for a couple of hours. Needless to say, I was completely out of it when I woke up. I kept going in and out of consciousness for what I would guess to be half an hour. I remember the first thing that I did was feel around my new bite with my tongue. However, I couldn’t really feel anything due to the numbing and painkillers, so I had to just assume that everything was in line. Even if I had the strength or cohesiveness to say anything, I couldn’t open my mouth due to a hefty amount of rubber bands keeping them shut.
I really didn’t have the strength to do anything at all. I remember that my arm was stuck under the blanket that I was wrapped in. I wanted to move it free, but anytime I tried I felt like I was in a straight jacket. The nurse saw my feeble attempts and simply lifted the light sheet to free my arm.
I only stayed in the hospital for one night. I had a nice little television that hung over my bed, which played reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (which is probably what I would have been doing anyways). The food wasn’t bad either. In the morning, the nurse came in with an assortment of broken jaw-friendly foods: scrambled eggs that had been run through a blender, a very soft bran muffin and oatmeal.
I was surprised with how quickly everything healed – inside and out. I would say that for about a week or two I experienced some achiness, which made giving up solid foods much easier – I don’t think that would be a pleasant experience. For about two months I was stuck eating soft foods that I could eat and swallow with minimal effort: yogurt, apple sauce, small pieces of bread and muffins and ground beef. Once I started to crave foods like fruit and meats, I got into the habit of blending them into a mush that actually didn’t taste that bad.
The level of pain was another thing that I was very surprised with. Aside from the achiness, I really did not experience any high level of pain or discomfort. In the first couple of days, I took my pain pills rather generously to stay ahead of it. I'm sure that without them, I would be hurting big time. I was given 30 Percocets, plenty more than I needed. What I would do is take 1-2 pills every time I felt even the slightest bit of pain or discomfort; about the same as the recommended dosage on the bottle. Just as a precaution, I would take one more with a glass of milk before bed so I could sleep better.
The most painful part of the entire recovery process was about two weeks after the surgery. I had to go back to the hospital to have a checkup, so the doctor can see how everything was healing. When it came time to inspect the stitches, the nurse had to stretch my top lip up – along with the healing incision near my upper jaw. That hurt like a son of a gun.
As expected, I experienced a bit of swelling as a result of the surgery. The weird thing is that I was expecting to watch my face balloon up like a boxer, but it was almost the same level as when I had my wisdom teeth removed. I would say that the swelling peaked around the third day and began to dissipate within the second week.
Most of the numbness went away after 2-3 weeks, but it still lingered for the rest of the month. Most of it was in the area from my top lip to my nostrils.
Braces Off and Done!
Another year later, I had my braces removed and I was finally done. I was given two retainers: a clear one to wear during the day and a metal one for night. I wore them religiously for about three months. Nowadays I will simply wear the clear one for a day if I feel like my teeth are slightly out of alignment.
It’s been about three years since I had my surgery and needless to say I am extremely happy with the results. I have had mixed responses from the people I know: half of my family and friends didn’t recognize me at first and the other half hardly even noticed anything was different. But, oh well. I’m happy with it and that’s all that counts.
I know that I haven’t covered every single angle to the long process that is orthodontic surgery. I can write a freaking novel about it! Having said that, feel free to ask me any questions via the comment section or fan mail.
Thanks for reading and take care!