Before the surgery:
- Why should I get jaw surgery?
- Is jaw surgery painful?
- How long does it take to recover from jaw surgery?
- How much does jaw surgery cost?
- What should I buy to prepare for recovery?
After the surgery:
- Will I look different after jaw surgery?
- How much weight will I lose after jaw surgery?
- Will I experience numbness after jaw surgery?
- Will I get all of my feeling back after jaw surgery?
- What can I eat after jaw surgery?
Cries for help:
- Help, I’m experiencing pain!
- Help, my breath is terrible!
- Help, my teeth are no longer touching!
- Help, my jaw movement is not returning!
- Help, I don’t look like myself anymore!
There are several reasons to undergo jaw surgery:
- To be able to chew with all your teeth
- To speak without a lisp
- To speak without spitting
- To stop your mouth from hanging open
- To stop breathing through your mouth and start breathing through your nose
- To change your appearance (side profile)
These reasons are all explained on the Reasons to Get Jaw Surgery page.
Jaw surgery is usually not painful. This may be difficult to believe, but since your nerves become bruised and numb during the surgery, you don’t actually feel any of the pain. By the time feeling returns to your face, most of the pain is gone.
Granted, you’ll experience a bit of pain when you yawn, sneeze and cough. It’ll also hurt when your jaw spasms (and it will spasm for the first month), but for the most part, you should not experience much pain at all.
It will take 90 days (3 months) for a full recovery after jaw surgery. Most of your feeling and energy will be back after 2 months, but it takes a full 90 days for your bone to fuse back together. A full range of motion in your jaw will return depending on how much you’re moving it around, so make sure you follow the exercises your surgeon gives you.
Jaw surgery costs roughly $5000 in Canada, but that price may differ significantly in other provinces and countries. If your surgery is deemed cosmetic (instead of “medically necessary”), the cost will be higher because you’ll be required to cover the hospital bills. Sadly, patients in the US have seen jaw surgery bills in excess of $50,000.
I recommend picking up the following essentials before your surgery.
- Food preparation (blend all the things!):
- Magic Bullet blender — This blender makes perfectly-sized portions for those first few weeks when you’re on a liquid diet. It blends frozen fruit without trouble and you can prepare up to 5 meals at a time using the included cups. (A smaller version with only 2 cups is available for half the price.)
- Syringes — Your hospital should provide a few syringes, but in case they don’t, you may want to buy a few to make drinking soup easier for the first few days when swelling is the worst.
- Food (for the liquid diet days):
- Ensure meal replacement drinks — These may not be the most delicious drinks, but they provide enough calories to give you some energy during the liquid diet phase.They should also satisfy any chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry cravings you’re having.
- Boost meal replacement drinks — If you don’t like the flavor of Ensure, these will serve the same purpose. Also available in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
- Chicken broth — During the first few days when the swelling makes it difficult to open your mouth, things like chicken broth can provide some much-desired flavor.
- Tomato soup — Also good for the first few days when you’re on a purely liquid diet.
- Campbell’s Chunky Soup — These were my favorite meals while on a liquid diet. I would heat them up on the stove and then blend them in the Magic Bullet before “eating” them. Lots of tasty flavors available: Chicken Noodle, Chicken Pot Pie, Pot Roast, Grilled Sirloin Steak with Hearty Vegetables, Beef with Country Vegetables, etc.
- Prune Juice — This may sound like a silly one, but it will make your toilet time a lot more enjoyable during the first couple of weeks.
- Fruit smoothies — These were another staple for me while on the liquid diet. I blended strawberries, bananas, oatmeal, peanut butter, honey, yogurt, vanilla ice cream, and whole milk for a delicious, high-calorie drink. Read my post about it.
- Entertainment (to keep you from going crazy!):
- Complete series of your favorite TV shows — The first few weeks of recovery are quite boring, unfortunately, so having lots of TV shows and movies to watch will help pass the time. (I recommend Friends and Cheers.) Video games and books can help as well, but note that you will be lacking in energy (both physically and mentally) due to your body being focused on healing.
- Other useful things:
- Hot packs — Heating these up in the microwave and resting them on your face will help ease the pain and soothe you to sleep.
- Medicated lip balm — You’re likely to have cracked lips during the first couple of weeks and this can be quite painful. Lip balm will help with this. (Vaseline works too!)
- Waterpik flosser — I never used this myself, but many readers said it was the only way they were able to clean their mouth at first. (Once you begin to taste your breath, you’ll understand.)
- Lots of cloths — Having cloths handy will help during those particularly “drooly” days.
After the surgery
You will notice subtle changes in your appearance following jaw surgery. Your overbite/underbite will no longer be present and your cheeks, nose, and chin may take on a different shape as well. My cheeks filled out a lot as a result of my surgery.
Most people lose between 5–10 pounds during the first month of their recovery. The general rule of thumb is that you will lose weight until you reach your natural body weight.
Yes, you will experience extreme numbness following jaw surgery. During the operation, several nerves in your face and chin have to be moved around. When you move a nerve, it becomes bruised, and when a nerve is bruised, it stops providing sensations, thus giving you that numb feeling (more on this in my Day 20 post).
70% of patients regain full feeling, while 30% may experience slightly numb areas in their cheeks, chin and lower lip for the rest of their lives. The feeling you have after 6 months post-op is likely what you’ll live with for the rest of your life.
You’ll be on a strict liquid diet following jaw surgery. Buy lots of Boost, Ensure or Carnation supplements and learn to make smoothies, because these will be your staple foods for at least the first 2 weeks. I had to eat them for 8 weeks, but my surgery was a bit more invasive than most. You’ll probably have to administer your food through a syringe for the first week as well.
Once your surgeon gives you permission to start chewing again, you can begin to eat soft foods such as pasta and mashed potatoes. During the weeks following your re-entry into the realm of chewing, you’ll be able to eat whatever is comfortable. Don’t expect to tear into a steak as soon as you’re allowed to chew again, though.
If you have the following implements, you should survive perfectly fine:
- A reliable blender (this is extremely important, as you’ll be blending almost everything)
- Smoothie materials (ice cream, yogurt, milk, bananas, strawberries, granola, peanut butter, honey, etc.) — Recipe
- Soup (you’ll have to blend everything except tomato soup)
- Ensure, Boost or Carnation (I drank 3 of these per day during my liquid diet phase)
- Prune juice (you’ll need the fiber in it)
- Whole milk (you’ll need all the calcium you can get so your bones heal back just as strong as they were before)
- Water (make sure you drink at least 1 L of water per day; drinking 2 L per day is a much better option)
The most important item on that list is water. If you don’t drink enough water each day, you’ll become dehydrated and sick, and your bowel movements won’t feel good because none of the fiber you’re eating will dissolve into your body.
Cries for help
If your pain is chronic (ie. consistent and throbbing), you may have an infection and should schedule a visit with your surgeon just to be safe.
On the other hand, if your pain comes in small bouts, it’s likely your nerves reawakening or your teeth being pulled by the elastics. In this case, just be patient and the pain will subside in due time. If you were prescribed pain medication, that may help as well.
At times, your breath may be indicative of the fact that you are not allowed to brush your teeth or floss during the first several weeks of recovery. To aid in freshening your breath, try gurgling with warm salt water a few times each day. Soon enough, you’ll be given the go-ahead to brush and floss again.
An open bite is a common problem following jaw surgery. Fear not, however, because your teeth will naturally grow until they encounter opposition (in the form of your other jaw), so this problem will slowly correct itself over time.
If you have been given the green light to resume eating regular food, but the movement in your jaw doesn’t seem to be returning, try whistling and chewing gum each day. Whistling will help to break up scar tissue, while chewing gum will stretch the muscles in your jaw.
This is perhaps the most common fear people have following jaw surgery. Remember that swelling takes a minimum of 3 months to go away, so try to avoid judging your appearance until that point.
Also, keep in mind that you are your own worst critic because you’ve been seeing your face in the mirror every single day for most of your life. While the subtle changes in your appearance seem drastic to you, most people will not even notice that your face changed shape.
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Note from Graham — After 4+ years of responding to each and every comment, question, and experience shared in this community, I must humbly step down from this task due to other life commitments. I've provided answers to the most common questions here (last updated July 20, 2014). Please continue sharing your stories in these comments for the benefit of future patients, and thank you so much for joining me on this journey. Cheers!