Navigating Orthognathic Surgery Recovery
Orthognathic surgery can have corrective and aesthetic benefits, as a surgeon corrects issues that affect your jaw alignment. This surgery type may be recommended if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chronic dry mouth due to breathing difficulties
- Chronic headache related to jaw pain
- Chronic jaw pain
- Difficulty chewing or biting into your food
- Improper bite
- Injury or trauma to your face
- Sleep apnea related to jaw positioning
- Trouble swallowing properly
- Visible jaw deformities, such as a receding chin
- Wear on the teeth due to jaw misalignment
If you are considering orthognathic surgery, it is important to discuss both benefits and drawbacks to the surgery with your physician. By establishing realistic expectations for recovery, you can make an informed decision if orthognathic surgery is right for you.
Orthognathic Surgery Recovery
To ensure your newly-restructured jaw stays in the right place, your surgeon will likely utilize brackets and rubber bands. While past surgical techniques involved wiring the jaws shut to facilitate recovery, advances no longer mean you have to wait to move your jaws post-surgery.
Immediately following surgery, you will be given pain-relieving medications. In the first week after surgery, you also will eat a liquid diet, such as blended smoothies, broth soups, fruit juices and gelatin. This minimizes trauma to your jaws.
Bruising and swelling are common side effects experienced during the orthognathic surgery recovery process. You can apply ice packs covered in a cloth to your jaws. However, you should not leave the ice packs on for more than 10- to 15-minute time increments. This is because the ice packs can burn your skin if left on for an extended period of time. Because of numbing during surgery and pain medications, you may not recognize the symptoms as easily.
Keeping your head elevated at 30 to 45 degrees also can help to minimize post-surgical swelling. While you should not engage in vigorous exercise, walking following surgery can help to increase your blood flow and improve your recovery.
After about one week, your surgeon may recommend advancing your diet to soft foods, such as mashed potatoes, sandwiches with deli meat and soft bread, eggs, yogurt and cooked vegetables. After about one month, you can return to eating solid foods although you may wish to avoid tough, chewy meats, such as a steak, for a few months.
Caring for Your Teeth
Maintaining proper oral care is vital to your recovery and helps to prevent infection. You should use a soft-bristled brush, such as a child’s toothbrush to clean around any brackets or arch wires your orthodontist has put in place to maintain your bite placement. Your surgeon will point out to you the incisions inside your mouth so you can know what areas to avoid as you brush. Water flossing devices should not be used until your mouth has more time to heal because the pressure may be too great.
You will likely follow up with both your surgeon and orthodontist as part of the orthognathic surgery recovery process. This includes visits to check your bite and adjust any wires, banding or retainers. You can typically return to work or school about one to three weeks after surgery, depending upon your progress. You should notice more significant changes in your bite and jaw function about six weeks after surgery, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.
When your surgeon determines your teeth and jawbones have stabilized, you may only need to wear your retainer in the evening. This can take anywhere from a few months to one year.
Any surgery is not without its risks, and orthognathic surgery is no exception. Possible complications include nerve damage, bleeding, infection and relapse of the jaw to where it returns to its previous position or a similar position. By following your surgeon’s recommendations, you can help to minimize these occurrences. If you notice unusual bleeding, drainage, swelling or fever, notify your physician immediately.