Following is a brief timeline of important events regarding recovery from double jaw surgery. If you only had a single jaw operated on, your recovery will be substantially quicker than this.
Keep in mind that every person recovers at a different pace, and also that every surgeon has their own agenda during the recovery process. This is simply the sequence of important events that took place during my personal recovery.
Before the surgery
To prepare for your recovery, I recommend picking up the following essentials.
- 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.
Day 0 (Surgery)
- You’ll be eating/drinking through a syringe
- You’ll be unable to sleep very much
- You may be freezing all night long due to the ice packs wrapped around your face
- You’ll feel extremely weak
- You won’t be able to talk
- You will drool constantly (but you’ll have the suction tube in the hospital to take care of that)
- Lots of blood will be churning up inside your nose, mouth and throat
- Your jaw will randomly spasm (and it will be painful)
- Swelling will begin
- Swelling will peak
- Your bowels will start working again around this time
- Feeling will begin to return to parts of your face
- Swelling will start to decrease
Day 7 (1 week)
- You’ll be able to move your mouth a bit easier, so your talking will become more understandable
- At your 1-week appointment, you’ll be able to brush your teeth, both inside and out (and it will feel amazing)
- Drooling won’t be as rampant any longer
- You’ll regain slight control over your lips
Day 14 (2 weeks)
- Most of the swelling will be gone
- You’ll be able to start drinking from a cup (although it may be messy at first)
- You can probably remove a few of the elastics clamping your teeth together, so talking will become infinitely more simple
- Sleeping through the night should no longer be a problem
- Your elastics will start snapping daily, due to your rapid increase in speaking
- Your breath will become bearable again, due to the fact that you’ve been eating different foods and brushing more often
Day 21 (3 weeks)
- Your energy will start to come back. Take advantage of it! Go for walks and take your bike out for a spin.
- You’ll be receiving substantial feeling back in your upper lip and cheeks. Your nose, lower lip and chin, however, will remain completely numb.
Day 28 (4 weeks)
- Talking will hardly be an issue any longer. If you have a splint/bite plate in, you’ll sound ridiculous, but people will be able to understand you.
- Your desire to be social and spend time with people will return in full force. Make sure you take advantage of it, and remember that your friends are not judging you.
- Feeling will begin to return to your lower lip and chin. That feeling will come in the form of pins and needles, but you’ll appreciate it regardless. If no feeling has returned to these parts yet, don’t worry. Surgeons say that it make take up to 90 days for feeling to begin coming back.
Day 31 (1 month)
- If your elastics are off, you’ll be able to speak quite well by now
- You won’t drool or spill any longer while eating
- You’ll have most of your normal energy back by now
- You’ll begin to feel like you’re ready to take life on again. Be warned though: you’re not quite there yet. Give it another month before you go crazy.
- More patches of feeling will return to your chin and lower lip
- You should no longer have to wear elastics during the day
Day 42 (6 weeks)
- You should be able to drink through a straw quite easily by now
- Most of your stitches should have dissolved by now
Day 49 (7 weeks)
- If you had a splint in, it should definitely be removed by now
- Be prepared to readjust back into the world of orthodontics
Day 56 (8 weeks)
- You should be able to eat with a small spoon or fork again
- Licking your lips should be no problem at this point
- You’ll most likely be allowed to blow your nose again. Be gentle, though, because you don’t want to pop a blood vessel.
Day 70 (10 weeks)
- If you haven’t been able to eat solid food yet, start now. Even if the task of eating involves mashing soft food up against the roof of your mouth, do it anyway. You’ll never gain your strength back on liquid alone.
Day 84 (12 weeks)
- You should enjoy the freedom of eating just about anything you want by now
- Consider practising whistling in order to break up the scar tissue that’s sure to be keeping your upper lip from enjoying its full range of motion
Day 90 (3 months)
- Your three months have finally come to an end! Enjoy eating, breathing and smiling to their full effect.
- Changes will be fairly slow from this point forward. The results you find yourself with at the 6-month mark will most likely be the results you’ll live with for the rest of your life.
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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!