Stephanie Blakemore was born with a misaligned jaw that made life difficult during her teenage years and throughout high school. She always had trouble eating certain foods, and so when braces didn’t correct the problem she decided upon corrective jaw surgery.
“It was a noticeable thing,” she recalls.
“The way I was born, my lower jaw was longer. My smile was off. My dad had the same issue but mine was worse and I always noticed that as a kid, especially as a teenager and going through that awkward stage of life. So it was that and not being able to bite down.”
Six years after jaw realignment surgery, Stephanie sat down with me to talk about the decision she made to have surgery, about the experience of having her jaw wired shut for most of a summer, and about her working with her surgeon, Dr. Hugo St. Hilaire.
Deciding to Have Corrective Jaw Surgery
What would you do if you couldn’t bite down on slice of pizza like everybody else?
Over the years, Stephanie had figured it out, but going out to eat or eating in front of other people was always a struggle for her. If she ordered a salad, for instance, “If I had a big piece of lettuce, I couldn’t just clamp down on it. I would either have to completely go for it or just yank it out.”
“It wasn’t like, ‘My nose is too big,’ or I don’t like this feature. I couldn’t bite down on a thin slice of pizza unless I used my back molars, and in the future it would have worn my molars down pretty much all the way since I couldn’t bite on my front teeth.”
Corrective jaw surgery would mean having her jaw wired shut for 4 to 6 weeks, but the life-changing results would outweigh the (intense) discomfort Stephanie endured in the summer before she went to college. Other, more conservative measures had failed. (“My orthodontist tried just doing this chin strap thing, you wear it just at night, but it didn’t work at all.”) And because it was a heredity condition, her health insurance would be picking up the tab.
“When I met with Dr. St. Hilaire, he was great from the start. He was amazing through the whole process. He’s very sociable, charismatic. My mom is a nurse, and she was impressed by how easy it was to talk to him, and, of course, me being a high-school girl I thought, ‘Oh, he’s cute.'”
Jaw Realignment Surgery in New Orleans
Dr. Hugo St. Hilaire of NOLA Craniofacial specializes in orthognathic surgery. He has years of experience and started out as a dentist, so he knows his way around the jaw. Nevertheless, he worked closely with Stephanie’s orthodontist to come up with a surgical plan. Read more about orthognathic surgery.
“He did a lot of research,” Stephanie recalls. “He had the x-rays from my orthodontist, and they spoke throughout the whole process. It wasn’t like I walked in and walked out that first day with a date for my surgery—he took his time and put in a lot of thought.”
Stephanie was a student in the middle of her senior year, she’d just had braces, and so it wasn’t until the summer before she left for LSU that she had corrective jaw surgery. Her jaw was wired shut for three weeks, after which she wore rubber bands to help train her bite. And she will tell you straight-up, “It was pretty miserable.”
“I think anyone who’s had their mouth wired would agree with that. It’s very intense, personal, and very difficult, because you are stuck in your mind for a month. I guess you learn how to be quiet more, since you can’t really speak but I am not very good at that still.”
“You just have to believe that overall the surgery is worth it.”
What to Eat With Your Jaw Wired Shut
“My mom’s a southern girl and she knows how to cook,” Stephanie says. “She made a ton of soups.”
The first couple of weeks were tough, especially since she couldn’t go outside. It can be extremely difficult for patients whose jaws are wired shut to get sufficient calories. As such, rest is recommended as a way of allowing the body to heal itself.
“The first two weeks were the most intense and I slept a lot, because I was starving and hungry, I lost a ton of weight, like 10 pounds, so for me I was skin and bone. Remembering those first two weeks is hazy, because I was just sleeping and avoiding being awake because I was hungry.”
According to Stephanie, the best foods to eat when you jaw is wired shut are:
- Any type of broth.
- Chocolate Milk
- Protein Shakes
- Smoothies (liquefied in a blender)
- Any soup that can be put through a strainer.
You can imagine how excited Stephanie was at the end of 6 weeks. “When he cut, I my wires, I was expecting to eat a massive hamburger,” she says. “I love to eat, so I kind of pushed it, but for that first week or two I was like, okay, no, maybe mashed potatoes.”
“It went smoothly, even if it was tough,” Stephanie can laugh now, looking back. “I went off to college right after. My face was swollen, and I was rushing sororities and by the end I couldn’t even smile, “Yeah, your sorority is great…” but that was my own fault because I talk a lot…”
Looking Forward to the Future
These days, Stephanie lives just off City Park, in a house that’s painted-up in nearly-matched shades of purple and that sits right on the parade route. In other words, she is having a whole lot of fun with her friends, co-workers, and with Patrick, her fiancé.
“It was definitely life-changing in a lot of ways,” she says, looking back at her decision to have corrective jaw surgery. “I mean, I can eat pizza and I can bite down on food… but it’s cool to have had that experience because I know what pain is, and I know what it feels like when you really are hungry…”
Stephanie teaches English to eighth, ninth, and tenth graders at Dominican High School in New Orleans, Louisiana and, better than most, she can sympathize with what her students are going through in those awkward years.
“I was always aware of how my jaw was, you know, bigger and longer than other kids’ jaws… so it has also been affecting in that way I am grateful to have been able to correct it, of course, and much more confident about my looks, but it’s also a family thing…
“I am sure that me or my brothers or sisters are going to have to deal with it with one of our own kids. I will be able to reassure them, your aunt did it or—me—your mom had this surgery, and I don’t have any regrets.”