As a child, I used almost every orthodontic appliance you can imagine. Braces, headgear, expandable retainers, you name it! I really ought to thank my parents because they probably paid up the wazoo to give their three children perfectly straight smiles. In my case, it was definitely worth it because I am ALWAYS showing my teeth. People usually refer to me as “that tall, blonde girl who is constantly smiling.”
About fifteen years ago, before I moved from California to Arizona to attend college, my childhood orthodontist was taking one last look at me and casually mentioned that I had developed “a bit of an underbite” during puberty. He said I could choose to undergo jaw surgery to correct it. I distinctly remember looking at my mom, my mom looking at me, and us both going “nahhhhhh, that’s okay.”
Looking back, I think our split-second decision was for the best because I wasn’t done growing yet – I was still a teenager. My underbite didn’t really bother me in high school because it wasn’t fully developed. However, since that day, my bottom jaw slowly continued to grow, until I eventually found myself deleting unflattering pictures of me that were taken from the side. People now referred to my “strong jawline” when describing me, and my brother’s friends even nicknamed it after my father’s last name because my brother and sister developed an underbite too. Why couldn’t we have inherited our mother’s perfect jaw genes instead?? (Sorry, dad. At least we got your brains!).
In May 2010, I graduated with my master’s degree and by that point in my life, I downright hated my side profile. In the dorms freshman year, I overheard a group of girls talking about my “unfortunate” face. One of my ex-boyfriends even called me a “big chin bitch” when I broke up with him. I think my brother has embraced his Jay Leno look, but as a female in this selfie-obsessed world, all my masculine jawline has done for me is mess with my psyche and self-esteem. For example, I prefer to wear my hair down, instead of up in a ponytail, because it helps “hide” the sides of my face. If a casual acquaintance is standing or sitting to the side of me, I instinctively cover my mouth when I laugh. I’ve spent countless hours reading thousands of blog posts by other underbite sufferers, and they have all described these same quirks, so I know I’m not alone.
Despite this, there are times I feel guilty for wanting jaw surgery because my underbite isn’t *that* bad compared to others – there are people out there who have it way worse than I do. My friends tell me to accept my big chin because it is my defining characteristic and makes me who I am. But I’m an atheist, so that whole “God doesn’t make mistakes; love the face that God gave you” mantra doesn’t really work for me. I’m a molecular biologist. I lost the genetic lottery, plain and simple. That’s the way I see it. Luckily, I live in a century where modern medicine can correct my underbite with minimal risk of death. I just have to shell out the cash because I live in the United States and our healthcare system is far from perfect.
In retrospect, I wish I had this surgery during graduate school, but I couldn’t afford to spend $25,000+ while on a teaching assistant’s income. I didn’t want to ask my parents to pay for it because, in my mind, I was an adult and it was about damn time that I started paying for things myself – especially an elective surgery to alter my appearance. I figured I would wait until I got a “real job” but that took longer than I expected and then I had some debt to pay off. It wasn’t until my fiancé proposed in October 2015 that it really hit me – if I didn’t have this surgery before our wedding (which is locked in for April 2017), then there was a good chance I would never have it. Soon I will be paying for my own kids’ braces!
In April 2015, at the age of 29, I went to see an orthodontist for the first time since I was a teenager, and I was completely blown away by his analysis of my teeth and skeletal structure. He took an X-ray of my head (see photo below) and showed me that (1) my molars were off by a whole molar, and (2) my lower front teeth (a.k.a. incisors) had compensated for it by slanting backwards by -7 degrees. Ideally, your lower incisors are supposed to tilt forward slightly. Apparently, my teeth did an excellent job of concealing the fact that I had a class III malocclusion. But what really surprised me is that circle (3) is behind circle (4) in the photo below. In a normal skull, it should be the reverse! My upper jaw didn’t grow enough, and my lower jaw grew too much.
[Insert X-ray photo]
He went on to explain that because my incisors were tilted backwards by so much, my roots were bulging through my gums, which isn’t healthy and can result in early tooth loss. We also discussed the “yawning incident” that took place one year prior: I was on a plane to Germany and my right TMJ made a loud, terrible popping noise. I swear, everyone on the plane must have heard it! Ever since then, my right TMJ cracks whenever I open my mouth wide, almost as if it is popping out of place. He said the surgery may or may not fix this particular issue (fortunately it’s not accompanied by any significant amount of pain), but the surgery should definitely keep me from developing more severe TMD symptoms in the future. Overall, he used the phrase “ideal bite” and “balanced profile” quite a bit.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting there to be many medical reasons to correct my underbite. That being said, I’m not going to pretend I’m getting this surgery for those reasons. I’m getting this surgery for cosmetic reasons. Yes, I’m fully aware that admitting this will undoubtedly anger a large portion of the jaw surgery community, because it seems like we spend a lot of time defending ourselves and trying to convince our loved ones (and our insurance providers) that this surgery is a medical necessity. But you know what? I don’t care. I have my reasons and you have your reasons. My reasons don’t invalidate your reasons and your reasons don’t invalidate mine. My body is mine to do with as I please, and hopefully someday I will love all of it, even my profile!