Understanding the Emotional Consequences of Jaw Surgery

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Most people undergo jaw surgery to fix functional problems with their bite and improve their facial appearance. Although many people report increased quality of life and self-esteem following the procedure, a small percentage may not feel completely satisfied with the outcome.

Having undergone jaw surgery myself a year ago, I’d like to share a bit of my experience and discuss the mental health implications of jaw surgery, as well as talk about things to consider before the procedure.

What Is Jaw Surgery, and Why Is It Done?

Jaw surgery, also known as orthognathic surgery, addresses a range of skeletal issues, particularly abnormalities in the upper or lower jaw that impact teeth and bite alignment.

Misaligned jaws can lead to many issues, including:

  • Chewing difficulty and trouble eating
  • Speech problems
  • Headaches
  • Breathing problems such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Problems in the jaw joints
  • Excessive wear and breakdown of the teeth
  • Self-esteem problems
  • Reduced quality of life

Jaw bone problems may be present at birth or develop later in life due to injuries or medical conditions.

By repositioning the jaws, the surgery can correct irregularities such as facial asymmetries, underbites, overbites, and crossbites. It can also improve function by making chewing easier and fixing problems with swallowing, breathing, and speech.

Besides dealing with functional issues, jaw surgery can have aesthetic benefits that may increase self-confidence and self-esteem.

Procedure Overview

Jaw surgery is complex and requires careful planning and preparation. The pre-surgery work usually involves a series of diagnostic tests to assess the current condition of the jaw and teeth. These tests may include X-rays, pictures, CT scans, and models of the teeth to help the surgeon plan the surgery accurately.

In most cases, patients may need braces for 12 to 18 months to put their teeth in the correct position before surgery.

Jaw surgery is performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the hospital setting under general anesthesia. Typically, patients need to stay in the hospital for two to four days after the surgery to recover.

During the procedure, the surgeon cuts the jawbones and moves them into the desired position. The bones are then secured using tiny bone plates, screws, wires, and rubber bands. This helps to ensure that the jawbones heal correctly and remain in their new position.

Jaw surgery can be performed in the upper jaw, lower jaw, chin, or a combination of these.

How Does Jaw Surgery Impact Mental Health?

Jaw surgery can affect a person’s emotional state, with the potential to cause either positive or negative effects.

One of the main reasons people undergo jaw surgery is to improve their physical appearance. People with facial irregularities who have an indication for jaw surgery are more likely to struggle with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

More than 85% of patients feel satisfied after jaw surgery. The procedure positively impacts the patient’s quality of life by improving facial aesthetics, oral function, social interactions, and overall mental and physical health.

But this is not everyone's reality. About 15% of patients who undergo jaw surgery report not feeling fully satisfied with the surgery or its outcomes. The reasons why this happens vary and may include:

  • Lack of information about the surgical risks
  • Time to complete the treatment
  • Post-surgery discomfort and complications
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Unrealistic expectations about the outcomes
  • Poor quality of care and attention after surgery
  • Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms
  • Not liking the end result

These negative feelings tend to improve with time but may persist in some people. If a person is dissatisfied with the appearance of their face or experiences unresolved functional issues or complications following surgery, a second procedure may be required, which can come with additional emotional implications.

My Personal Experience

In July 2022, I underwent double jaw surgery to address functional issues, prevent future complications, and get a better smile. I had facial asymmetry and underbite that were causing teeth grinding, jaw pain, and frequent headaches.

While I am generally pleased with the outcome, there were some challenges during my recovery. Adjusting to my new face was difficult, mainly due to the swelling, which may take up to a year to go away.

The healing process was lengthy and required collaboration with a multidisciplinary team, including my surgeon, orthodontist, and speech therapist.

Despite careful attention, I continue to experience slight numbness in my lower lip and chin, which bothers me a bit. Throughout the process, my surgeon was honest about the potential results, which helped me maintain realistic expectations.

I am happy with my decision as it has improved my smile, breathing, and chewing abilities. However, I wish I had been more thoroughly informed about the procedure beforehand, which would have allowed me to prepare myself better physically and mentally.

Things to Consider Before Having Jaw Surgery

Opting for jaw surgery can be difficult, as it may raise several questions and concerns. Talk to your maxillofacial surgeon to discuss the potential benefits of the surgery for you, as well as any possible risks and complications that may arise during and after the procedure.

It’s also important to ask your maxillofacial surgeon about the expected outcomes of the surgery. Aligning your expectations with the potential results can help prevent feelings of frustration and regret.

Recovering from jaw surgery can be painful and uncomfortable. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine the most effective ways to manage pain and discomfort during this period.

Jaw surgery requires several months of preparation and post-surgery care. Understanding this is essential to prepare for the long-term commitment it requires.

Seeking counseling or therapy may help cope with any emotional difficulties arising before or after jaw surgery.

Takeaway

Undergoing jaw surgery can be challenging as it requires many steps. It's essential to stay informed and be prepared to handle any potential changes that may arise. It's also vital to manage your expectations and seek help if you're struggling with mental health issues.

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I’m a Biologist, Ph.D. in Psychobiology, Biotechnology specialist, and owner of Medlink, a Medical and Scientific Communications company. 

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