Tinsley is an active and vibrant young woman. Just like most people her age, she enjoys sharing her experiences on social media. Before having double jaw (orthognathic) surgery, she was self-conscious of her smile. She did her best to hide her crossbite, but felt uncomfortable and was plagued with chronic headaches. So began her double jaw surgery journey, which she documented on her Instagram account @tinsleys_doublejaw_surgery.
Now that Tinsley’s recovered, happy, healthy and sporting a new profile that she loves, we wanted to know what she wishes she’d know before beginning this process. What lessons could we glean from her experience to share with our other patients who are considering jaw surgery? She obliged with a wealth of useful information about her jaw surgery and recovery that’s very useful in preparing for such an extensive treatment:
1. GET MOVING
I wish that I knew how important it was to get up and move as soon as possible, really as soon as day 2, after surgery. It feels impossible, but it helps so much with gaining physical and mental strength back. It also helps greatly with decreasing swelling and increasing blood flow. This was important and I wish I knew before how much better and stronger it would make me feel just to walk around and get fresh air.
2. RECRUIT A SUPPORT TEAM
I wish I knew how important it was to have a caretaker 24/7. Before surgery, it is difficult to understand the time and attention that are necessary for recovering. There are so many everyday things that you won’t be able to do on your own initially (and shouldn’t attempt). I would say it’s close to impossible to recover without help. It is essential to have someone with you all day, even throughout the night in the first few weeks of recovery. We often take for granted normal routines like being able to get up and make a bowl of cereal, brush our teeth, or change shirts. During your recovery process, those things become challenges and will require someone to help.
3. THERE ARE SOME UNEXPECTED SIDE EFFECTS
I wish I knew about constipation and how to help or prevent it. This is the raw, real truth. It happens and it is uncomfortable. I think that if I had started stool softeners a few days in advance and stayed more hydrated, I could have saved myself a lot of discomfort. It is so important to prepare your body for recovery in advance. There was nothing worse than recovering and being impacted. Even though it’s not a fun topic to discuss during surgery planning, do it! Also, be sure to ask your team if there are other ways you can physically prepare your body for recovering from jaw surgery.
4. APPRECIATE SMALL IMPROVEMENTS
I wish I knew how much joy would come from the little tiny improvements and accomplishments in the recovery process. While the recovery is long and very demanding, and much of it is out of our control, it makes it all worth it when you have moments of joy from growth. The things like a wider smile, sitting outside longer, less drooling, stretching your mouth wider, chewing new foods, sleeping through the night, decreases in swelling bring so much happiness and motivation to keep going, stay positive, and work towards recovery. These moments are something you start to live for and make the process go by so much faster.
5. EXPECT LOTS OF DROOLING
Speaking of drool, I wish I knew how excessive it would be! While this is a natural process, it is very annoying. It doesn’t cause any harm, but if I could have changed one single part of this recovery it would be the drool. There is no way to prevent it, but I wish I knew a better way to handle it. All I could do was use towels and baby bulb syringes to get rid of it. I had to carry towels with me everywhere I went. This was one thing I did not master in recovery. Ask for suggestions during jaw surgery planning.
6. NUMBNESS IN YOUR FACE
I wish I knew how weird it was going to feel to regain feeling in your face. During the recovery period, your face, lips, chin, nose, and eyes become numb. As you start to recover, the feeling comes back in no specific way. It’s an unusual sensation that is difficult to describe. This feeling will different for everyone. For me, it almost feels like the “pins and needles” sensation you experience when your foot falls asleep, but not as intense. It’s a tingly, warm feeling that is difficult to get comfortable with. Warm rags, cloths and heating pads can help when this starts to happen. Nothing makes the feeling go away completely, but the heat helped!
7. YOU WILL FEEL MORE CONFIDENT (EVENTUALLY)
I wish I knew how happy, confident, and joyful I would feel now that I am completely recovered. If I could go back and tell myself anything during recovery it would be “You will get through this. While it seems scary and some days are harder than others, you will feel more beautiful, confident, inspired, and thankful from this experience than you could have ever imagined.” It can feel like a never-ending road at times, but I promise there is light and joy at the end.
8. ICE PACKS ARE IMPORTANT
I wish I knew how important ice packs were. Keeping ice on, even for the first few weeks is crucial to aiding with discomfort. The ice brought a cooling, calming feeling to my skin and immensely helped with the decrease in my swelling. I would recommend having 3 or more ice packs on stand-by in case one gets messy or worn out. Ice was key for me.
9. SHAKE IT UP
I wish I knew how essential it was to get in those calories. High carb, high protein, increased water intake helps the body heal quicker and prevents too much weight loss. Plus, eating that much makes you feel better and stronger. Get the calories in however you can, shakes, drinks, blended foods, whatever works for you. Also, make sure to plan a variety of foods and flavors that are tasty and easy to digest so you don’t get tired of eating the same things.
10. KEEP YOUR MOUTH CLEAN
It will be difficult to brush your teeth for the first few days, but oral care is essential. Make sure you or your caregiver are doing your best to keep your mouth cleaned and rinsed. This is huge in preventing infection and the development of cavities during this time.
11. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SURGERY TEAM
It can feel very scary to go through such a life changing surgery and to be put to sleep. It is very important to communicate your feelings with your oral healthcare team. The surgeons and anesthesiologists help you feel like more than 100% capable of recovering and recovering well. Having doctors and a healthcare team that is invested in your recovery and your health makes it easier to recover with confidence.
12. DEALING WITH THE PAIN
I wish I knew how important it is to stay on top of pain medication the first few days until you can function and feel progress. The first few days can be a daze from the anesthesia, medications, exhaustion, and sleep. Everyone handles pain differently and it’s individualized, but it is crucial to stay ahead of it the first few days. Many of these meds have to be taken through a syringe and taste horrible. It’s important to keep something to wash them down with on hand.
13. DOCUMENTING CHANGE CAN HELP YOU SEE RESULTS
I wish I knew how much I would appreciate documenting the process of recovery. I took pictures every day, even if I thought I looked the same, to watch myself change and evolve into my new self. It’s important for you, and your surgeon to have documentation of your recovery however you choose to do it.
A YEAR & A HALF POST-OP
Today, I’m happy to report that I am confident, happy, headache-free, and so comfortable with myself and in my own skin. I honestly have never felt better. I would go through this journey a million times over again to get this result and feel this way.