Friday, December 25, 2009

Navigating jaw surgery: top topics

Thank you everyone who has written me to say that my site has helped you through your own jaw surgery decisions and experiences. Even though it's been almost two years since my surgery, I still get a fair number of emails and questions from people doing research. I thought I would give you some links that will make it easier to find what you're looking for on my blog:

Don't forget about all the links in my sidebar, including links to other jaw surgery bloggers. If you don't see what you're looking for in my posts or links, feel free to email me at smilingbella at gmail dot com.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Last week, I went to the orthodontist only to find the door locked and a sign saying that all appointments were cancelled due to "sterilization issues."

Being involved in animal rescue, I immediately thought this meant my orthodontist was being neutered. He couldn't keep his appointments because he was currently under the knife, or he had just had the procedure done and had acquired some kind of unspeakable infection.

And now, the mental image of him holding a big bag of ice to his crotch is traumatizing me to no end.


On the plus side, the appointment was rescheduled for today, and to my surprise, he took my braces off!

Freedom, finally! I am whitening my brace-free teeth as I type! Hooray!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zip-N-Squeeze debacle

Just wanted to warn all the jaw surgery buddies who are having surgery over the next few months that something seems to be up with Zip-N-Squeeze.

According to Carrie at The Winnipeg Teeth/Lower Jaw Surgery Transformation, the company has been accepting orders online but hasn't been sending them out, leaving a lot of people scrambling to try and get their money back from PayPal. I checked Dinner Through a Straw, the site I ordered my Zip-N-Squeeze bags from, and it states that all of the Zip-N-Squeeze products are "temporarily out of stock."

So, anyone wanting this product is out of luck for now. It will be interesting to know if this is truly a temporary situation, or if the company is done like the pureed dinner we wish we could put in their bags.

If anyone hears updates, drop me a line.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ask Bella: Sleeping after jaw surgery

Q: I have a question for you that I don't recall any mention of in your blog - How exactly did you manage to sleep through the first few weeks of recovery? I'm reading a lot of comments from people about the necessity of sleeping in an almost upright position. I've been on the hunt for some kind of reclining chair, but I would hate to buy something I'll never use again. What did you do to manage? Any suggestions/tips?

A: Thanks for the question! You're right - I don't think I've talked about that at all on this blog.

In the hospital, they'll have the upper part of your bed elevated. At home, you can do the same thing by putting a stack of pillows behind your head/shoulders. No need for a special chair at all, or to sleep in an upright position - just propped up. I think some people get carried away with getting all kinds of accessories for this surgery!

I bought a pillow with arms on it, which is sometimes called a "Bed Rest Pillow." It works really well at keeping your upper body elevated without being completely upright. It looks like this:
It was inexpensive - something like $30 - and should be available in department stores. It makes more sense than buying a special chair for just a few weeks. Plus, I'd rather sleep in my own bed than in a chair, wouldn't you?

I slept propped up for a month or so after surgery. I found that I got used to it, and that after I started sleeping without the bed rest pillow, it was strange to get used to the "normal" way again.

Good luck and sweet dreams!

*To ask Bella a question about her jaw surgery, email her at smilingbella at gmail dot com or leave a comment on this post. Go ahead: ask away!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don't count your brackets before they've been removed

Remember when I said my braces were supposed to come off on August 8?

Well, scratch that. One of my brackets came loose before my last appointment and a gap opened up big enough that food was getting impacted in it every time I ate. Fun!! Also, there are some other gaps that need to be closed as well. When I asked if my braces will come off at my next appointment, I was told with a laugh, "Oh, no. It will be longer than that."

I may not make corn on the cob season this year. Oh well, I may have to head down to the Farmer's Market, buy a bunch of corn, and freeze it until I'm brace-free. I am determined to have corn on the cob, and I will have corn on the cob, damnit!!

In other (good) news, I went to the Folk Festival again this year and had a pleasant surprise. Last year, I had to leave once Michael Franti took the stage, as the heavy bass in his music vibrated the screws in my jaw and gave me a raging headache. I was less than impressed, as Michael Franti was rocking it. Not fair!

This year, I was weary of the same thing happening, but when k-os played, with just as heavy bass, if not more, I was fine! So, no more worries about loud, rock concerts with generous amounts of rumbly bass - my jaw and I are good to go!

Wooo hooo! Bring it on!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

One month?

I went to my orthodontist yesterday and got some good news: the braces will come off on August 8!

I'm a bit paranoid about getting them off, as last time they were removed (July 2008), large spaces opened up within a few months, and I had to get them put back on in October. Even though I was wearing my retainers. Religiously.

So, we'll see what happens. I'm willing to put aside my paranoia in exchange for eating a bushel or two of corn on the cob this summer!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mind the gaps

We're slowly inching toward the day when my braces will come off (again). My orthodontist sent me to a dentist to see if the gaps in between my teeth can be filled, as he is unable to close them this time around.

The dentist said that because my teeth seem to be moving around and that the retainer was unable to hold them in place last time around, that he will probably bond a permanent retainer (light wire) behind my upper teeth to keep them anchored.

He's going to talk to my orthodontist over the next while to come up with a plan. So, we'll see what happens.

I am starting to get tired of the train tracks, not because they get in my way, but because I like smiling with my teeth in pictures, and when I do that now, it looks awful!

Cross your arch wires for me...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Calling all jaw surgery bloggers

I've been updating my links and have realized that many of the people I link to have now gone through the surgery, are moving on with their lives and have stopped blogging.

I would like to keep my blogroll as up-to-date as possible, so if you're reading this and you have a blog about your jaw surgery journey (pre- or post-op) that is not already on my list, please leave your URL in the comments so I can link to you.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ask Bella: Numbness and nerve damage

Q: During my meeting with the surgeon last week, he warned me about the small possibility of damaging the nerves. I kind of knew the risks that exist with these types of surgeries, but as I sat there listening to him, I really had this overwhelming fear that I will lose feeling on some parts of my face. So then I started really to research more about it. Given that, I wanted to ask you the following questions:
  1. Did you have huge concerns over nerve damage?

    A: I was concerned, but I did a lot of research, read people's stories on the Internet and talked to people who had the procedure done. I also looked into alternative health practices that would help with nerve repair, such as acupuncture, supplements, and homeopathic remedies. You can see my list of homeopathic/supplements that I took before and after surgery here. Also, all my posts that deal specifically with numbness can be found here.

  2. What did your surgeon tell you about the risks involved and how likely it is that something will go "wrong"?

    A: My surgeon told me that there was a risk for permanent numbness in the chin/lower lip and that risk went up with age. So, at 32 years old, I had a 32 per cent chance of having permanent numbness. However, this guy had been doing this surgery for longer than I have been alive, so I had faith in his abilities to minimize damage and risk.

  3. Did you hesitate about going through the surgery? If so, why did you decide to go ahead?

    A: No hesitation. Once I did all my research and felt comfortable with the surgery, I moved forward and never looked back. I did this surgery because I was having a lot of TMJ pain as a result of my overbite and knew that it would get worse if I didn't do something.

  4. Do you regret having gone through the surgery because of nerve issues?

    A: No regrets. And no major nerve problems because of the surgery.

  5. Has all the feeling gone back to your chin/jaw/lip areas?

    A: A year after surgery, I have almost full feeling in my lower lip and chin. It is more than 99 per cent there and improves everyday. I don't notice it unless I touch the area very, very lightly. If I use a regular touch, it feels like the rest of my face, and I can't tell the difference. The majority of the feeling in my chin/lip came back very quickly (within a month of surgery) and then slowed down, but improved on an ongoing basis. I have faith I'll have full feeling return, but even if I don't, I can live with the way it is - it's not weird at all.

  6. Would you have done something differently?

    A: I would have taken iron supplements post-surgery. It was the only thing I didn't think about doing and I became anemic as a result. Of course, this isn't the case for everyone, but it was for me. I also would not have let my orthodontist take off my braces when he did - it was too soon and gaps opened up between my teeth and I had to have the braces put back on a few months later. Otherwise, no "what ifs". I was very prepared.

  7. Knowing what you know now, will you do the surgery all over again?

    A: Absolutely. No regrets. I'm happy with the results, and I am looking forward to a pain-free life with a winning smile.

Of course, this is my situation and experience and everyone is different.

Thanks for your questions, and good luck!

*To ask Bella a question about her jaw surgery, email her at smilingbella at gmail dot com or leave a comment on this post. Go ahead: ask away!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Free at last...kinda

I went to The Big City to see my surgeon for my one-year post-surgery appointment the other week and he said that my bite looks great and I don't have to go back to him anymore!


The only reason I would have to go see him is if the screws in my jaw get infected and have to be taken out, which he says is quite rare.

Double yay!!

Another exciting development is that when I go see my orthodontist today, I will not have to pull out my credit card to make my monthly payment. Because, last month, I made the FINAL one. After three years of monthly payments, I am done, baby!!

Triple yay!!

I did a little dance around the reception desk with my credit card, singing, "This is my final payment, this is my final payment" while the ladies laughed at me. My orthodontist didn't seem phased at all. Maybe he sees this a lot?

The only area where I am not free is in the upper braces department. But hey, after all I've been through, what's a bit longer?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Happy Jawiversary

February 12 marked my 12 month jawiversary, one full year after my face was sawed open and screwed and wired together. Wow. It's hard to believe. It feels both like forever ago and like it was just yesterday.

Things have finally started settling down for me. I still have the braces on my top teeth (put back on in October after three months of being off) and the gaps are closing nicely.

A month or two ago, I started developing some problems with my right joint - crackling and clicking and pain upon opening and chewing. Fortunately, a physiotherapy session helped resolve that. I am confident that once the braces are off again, the joint will settle into place, because I don't recall having problems with that joint when the braces were off last time.

My opening is at about 44 mm and my jaw swings slightly to the right when I open to my full range of motion. Again, some physiotherapy exercises are helping to correct that, and also build some more strength in the jaw. Though I am told that it will take months of these exercises before I will be opening straight. It's a marathon for this kind of thing, not a sprint.

I have my one-year checkup with my surgeon next week, so we'll see what he thinks. I have a feeling he'll be happy with how things are going. One thing I noticed over the past few weeks is that there's a spot on the left side of my jaw that's a bit tender. It seems like the location of where the screws are, so I'll have to ask him about that.

There is still a slight, slight amount of numbness in my chin. I only notice it when I run my finger very lightly across it. When I touch my face normally, it feels fine. I notice minute improvements still, so I know it continues to get better, even though it's at a slower pace than at the very beginning. I am hoping that full feeling will return eventually, though I can live with the amount that I have now without any discomfort, so I'm not too worried about it.

As for the depression I have been dealing with since after my surgery, it seems to be lifting with the proper drugs and treatment. I've had to accept that this will likely be a life-long struggle for me, as it runs in my family, but I am sure that I can fight it and come out on top.

I always come out on top.

I thought you might like to see some pictures of what I look like now:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Medical claims

So, last year was quite the year for medical expenses for me. Fortunately, I do live in Canada, where my surgery and hospital stay were completely covered by our health care system.

But that doesn't mean that there weren't major costs associated with this surgery for me. The surgical splint was $500 and wasn't covered under any of my benefit plans. Also, I had my surgery in another city, which meant lots of travelling back and forth to see my surgeon. And then there was a lengthy recovery, which included extra insurance, medications, physiotherapy, massage therapy (including lymph drainage massage), acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy, orthodontics and dentistry.

I avoided totalling it all up until now. And the damage: more than $4,700.

Wow. That's a lot. And the above is just the amount my benefits didn't cover. If it were the full amount, it would be another few thousand for sure (not to mention the shortfall in my gross pay because of all the work I missed due to related illnesses over the past year.)

Then again, being able to chew like a normal person and replace frequent migraines with a winning smile?


And hey, at least I get a good tax return this year.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ask Bella: Bite post-surgery

Q: Hi Bella. I'm having the exact same surgery in a month or so and your blog has helped me so much to prepare myself. Thank you so much for sharing your procedure! I've got a couple of questions (if you don't mind answering).

Immediately after surgery, do you have a normal bite? - Do your back molars touch?

My orthodontist will have me slide my lower jaw forward to give me (and him) an idea on how it will look after the surgery. When doing this, of course there is a strain and it's not comfortable. After surgery (and healing), does the moving of the jaw forward feel normal and comfortable/relaxed? - Does it feel like you're jutting your jaw forward all the time?

A: I do believe I had a normal bite after surgery. I was wired shut for two weeks, but from what I can remember, my molars did touch at the back.

As for your other question, it sounds like your orthodontist was trying to give you an idea of the aesthetics of your face post-surgery - the changes to your chin/jaw line and what you look like. That uncomfortable strain you were feeling isn't reflective of what it's going to feel like post-surgery because that's not what's going to be happening to your jaw.

You jutting your jaw forward pre-surgery means moving the lower jaw forward in its joint, which is not what the surgery does. The surgery cuts into the bones on the sides of the jaw and lengthens them, making your jaw bone longer. This way, your joint stays put and you're able to use your jaw the way "normal" people do - without jutting it forward to be able to have that function and aesthetic.

Does that make sense?

After the surgery, your joint and muscles will have to make some accommodations to get used to your new jaw length/position, but it won't be the same feeling as jutting it forward. I don't know how much advancement you're having (mine was 4 mm) but I imagine there is more of a difference in feeling with larger advancements because your muscles have to stretch/change their orientation to connect with a longer jaw. Also, don't forget that you will also have some numbness in your chin, which will affect your feeling of what's "normal."

Good luck!

*To ask Bella a question about her jaw surgery, email her at smilingbella at gmail dot com or leave a comment on this post. Go ahead: ask away!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ask Bella: Fatigue and depression

Q: I appreciate your discussion of fatigue and depression post surgery, and hope you will continue to raise this concern in your forthcoming blog updates. Depression and fatigue are two matters that I am worried about because I already struggle with these difficulties. I would appreciate learning more about the strategies you have used (or that others have used) for managing fatigue and depression after surgery.

A: Thank you so much for this question. I've noticed that a fair amount of people who find my blog through Internet searches are looking for information on this topic, and I also know that this is one of those things not a lot of people want to talk about, because of the stigma attached to depression.

For those of us who already struggle with fatigue and depression (myself included) on an ongoing basis, surgery can trigger these problems, which, in turn, can lengthen the recovery period.

I had a physiotherapist who told me once that many of the people she saw in rehabilitation programs (after major car accidents, injuries, etc.) were having serious mental illness problems. The way she put it was that everyone has his/her breaking point - there is only so much the mind can take. So, some people may be coping with regular everyday life just fine, but intense stress, such as that caused by a physical injury or illness, will push them over that edge.

I found that piece of information very interesting, particularly because I know how regular stress can affect my ability to cope with everyday life. That was part of the reason I worked so hard at being educated and mentally prepared for the surgery, with the determination to stay as positive as I possibly could about it. Unfortunately, even with my best efforts, I did plunge into depression and have been struggling with that combined with fatigue for this past year.

I don't say this to scare anyone with mental health problems from having this surgery - I still believe the positives far outweigh the negatives. It's just that I now have an additional level of healing to deal with than others who have had the same surgery.

In addition to mentally preparing yourself and having a really good understanding of what you're getting into, there are some other preparations you can make to deal with depression, post-surgery or otherwise:

Supplements: There are a number of supplements I take to help with depression/anxiety and I find they do help (please check with your doctor before taking any supplements):

  • B Complex - I take B50 complex twice a day (with meals). It's good for nerves and I find I deal much better with life when I'm on it. On the plus side, it can also help your nerve endings repair themselves after surgery.

  • Vitamin C - I take 1,000 mgs twice a day (with meals). Taking up to 3,000 mgs, from what I understand, is helpful with depression.

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids - I take 1,000 mgs of salmon oil (you could substitute other fish oil or flax seed oil - liquid or caplets) twice a day (with meals). This is one of the few supplements psychiatrists agree really help people with mental health issues.

  • Vitamin D - I take 2,000 mgs once a day (with breakfast). Those of us in more northern climates don't get enough of this essential vitamin because we don't get as much sunlight. This is especially important in the winter and Vitamin D deficiency may be a cause of seasonal depression.

  • Calcium/Magnesium - If I'm having problems sleeping due to stress, I will take a calcium supplement (1,000 mgs, with a small snack) before bed. The reason you want a calcium/magnesium combination supplement is that calcium on its own can cause constipation.

Know the physical symptoms of depression: It's easy to slip into depression without knowing it. It can kind of sneak up on you. Sometimes, I have the classic symptoms and I know right away when to start seeking help. After the surgery, I just thought I was exhausted and had the flu all the time (for months and months and months, which should have tipped me off.) It was only after I went back to my doctor for numerous tests (once the anemia issue was cleared up) that she suggested that I may actually be depressed instead of having something physically wrong with me.

Seek medical help: Going to your doctor to talk about depression can be scary and intimidating if you've never done it before, or even if you have. No one wants to have to say those words. Then again, they can be very empowering because by speaking the truth out loud, you are able to do something about it. Get checked out for the other physical possibilities that could be causing the symptoms - your doctor will know what to look for (such as anemia, thyroid problems, etc.)

Get a specialist: If you have a history of mental health issues or have mental health problems running in your family, it's a good idea to have a psychiatrist. They know the drugs a lot better than general practitioners do, and you want someone with knowledge on your side for those situations where a family history may make your case a bit more complicated.

In my opinion, it's even better to get yourself in with a specialist when you're in a good place and not in crisis (i.e. well before the surgery.) In doing so, you can develop a relationship with your psychiatrist before something happens, and he/she can get to know you when you're at your best. That way, you are less vulnerable when something happens and have a better chance of being an active participant in your own care. Not to mention that there are usually long waiting lists for specialists (here in Saskatchewan, it's 8-9 months to get in with a psychiatrist when you're referred by a family doctor!!)

Talking to someone can help get the weight of the world off your shoulders and give you some perspective on stressful situations. In some cases, this can be enough to keep you from sliding down into depression. In others, it can help you manage the depression and claw your way out. There are really no downsides to this. Get it all out!

Drugs: Along with the medical help and psychiatrists are, you guessed it, drugs. Some people are really against this route. I have been one of those people in the past. However, I got to a point where I could no longer function in everyday life and the only way I could get out of bed, make it to work and be even remotely social was to start taking antidepressants.

Not saying that this is the choice for everyone, but I didn't really have a choice. I fought it for a long time, because of the stigma, because of the fact that I didn't want to admit that I had something that I had seen others in my family struggle with, because I wanted to be "stronger" than that and pull myself out of that pit with my own sheer willpower.

This illness is something that runs quite rampantly in my family, and I had to face the reality that my biology needs some chemical help. That's just the way it is, and it doesn't make me a weaker or lesser person than anyone else (though I still have moments when I think this - I'll have to work on that in therapy, I suppose.)

Things have been getting better, but we're still trying to get the drug doses right, so it's not like the drugs are a cure-all by any means. I know that I have to continue doing everything else on this list to ensure that my mental health is taken care of. Which brings us to...

Exercise: Yeah, I'm still working on this one. They say that exercise improves pretty much every mental illness. But the problem with mental illness is that you're too exhausted/depressed/anxious to exercise. I mean, if you can't get out of bed in the morning, are you seriously going to go for a jog around the block? I think not! But I'm hoping that the drugs can put me in a good enough place that I can start exercising to stop the cycle of depression.

Does anyone else want to add to the list? How do you cope with depression?

*To ask Bella a question about her jaw surgery, email her at smilingbella at gmail dot com or leave a comment on this post. Go ahead: ask away!!


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