Before you read this page, consider reading my 'Jaw Surgery Tips' blog from the beginning: http://www.jawsurgerytips.com/blog/2014/2/6/before-surgery.
Now to the tips. I have a full list of jaw surgery tips, plus a FAQ, blog and before and after pictures. These tips will hopefully help make your recovery from jaw surgery a bit easier, plus I've included some ideas on how to maximize the free time you'll gain after surgery. I had two double jaw surgeries, the first in January 2014 and the second in April 2015. If you have a tip or idea that's not included, share it in the comments at the bottom of the page. Also read my blog to discover everything about my own experiences.
Ask for your surgeon's email address and mobile phone number.
I ended up calling and emailing my first surgeon several times within the days before and after surgery. You will want to have this information on hand. Remember that jaw surgery is major surgery, and there's nothing wrong with giving you and your loved ones a little more peace of mind by asking for a direct phone number. My second surgeon offered the office number which could get in touch with him to let him know I called. This is also fine.
Be kind to the friends and family who are there to take care of you in the hospital and at home. They won't be able to understand you a lot of the time, but don't become frustrated. You will be very irritable for the first few weeks, not being able to eat like normal.
My jaw was not wired shut, so I was able to make noises with my mouth beginning on day one. It was uncomfortable since I was weak, but I would do it every now and then anyway. You will by no means be able to enunciate clearly until the splint comes out, though you will find it easier to talk as the days go by leading up to the splint coming out.
Jaw surgery is major surgery. It is a whole very different than recovery after wisdom teeth removal. I should know since I had all four wisdom teeth removed, plus two others taken out to help get my upper jaw to a good spot pre-surgery, plus two jaw surgeries. Jaw surgery recovery is very uncomfortable for the first several days following the operation. Discomfort will likely be a much larger problem than pain for anyone who receives jaw surgery. Do keep in mind that you will have a team of doctors and nurses monitoring you in the hospital, and that surgery recovery is a situation that they deal with on a daily basis. Trust your surgeon and the hospital staff. Ask your surgeon questions in the months leading up to surgery to fully mentally prepare yourself. Stay strong.
Be sure you, the patient, checks your room before leaving the hospital.
While you will have someone to help you get home, be 100% sure that they have gathered all of the things you need, especially syringes, cotton swabs, all of your belongings, etc. You might not be able to communicate clearly regarding all the items that need to go with you, so be sure. It's your responsibility. I forgot a special large syringe because I thought my girlfriend picked it up. Double check your room!
You might drool for at least one week after surgery because of the initial swelling. I drooled for two weeks after my first surgery, then didn't drool at all after my second surgery. This might be because I was incredibly swollen after eight hours of surgery the first time, and barely swollen after three hours of surgery the second time. If you do drool, it is an inconvenience, and it's annoying. It might be one of the worst parts of recovery, even though it's painless. Imagine uncontrollable drooling, and using 3-4 towels a day to catch it all. Also imagine that it's difficult to swallow liquid, and I think you'll understand what I mean. One good way to stop drooling on things below you is to wrap a towel around the front side of your neck, with the two ends falling behind you over your shoulders. Puff out the towel in front of your neck so it catches drool. Prepare lots of fresh towels, and buy several rolls of paper towels. Ask your surgeon if he expects drooling. See these products on the Products page.
Your face will swell for quite a while. Some things you can do to reduce the swelling in your face include:
- Sleeping on your back with your head elevated for the first 1-2 weeks
- Moving your lips often every day, puckering, then opening wide, puckering, then opening wide
- Talking a lot to your loved ones, friends, or yourself, even if they can't understand you
- Taking brief walks during the day
- If you're watching a movie, walk around a bit in the room, don't sit in one spot for 2-3 hours
- Taking lots of showers as the steam is supposed to help reduce swelling a bit
- My surgeon told me that the faster I get back in the normal swing of things, the faster I'll recover. My swelling was much worse in my first surgery since I was in the operating room for eight hours. I was only in the operating room for three hours in the second surgery.
Surgeon's success rate
Ask your surgeon what his/her success rate is, meaning "how often do you have a patient come back for a second surgery?". My second surgeon let me know early on that he only had to operate a second time on less than 1% of his patients. This was a huge selling point for me. You might be hesitant to be so up front with your surgeon, but remember that you want to get this done in one surgery!
As soon as you feel able, take walks. This includes if you're in the hospital the day after surgery. I was slowly walking around the hallways the day after. Nine days after my first surgery, I took a long outdoor walk for almost two hours. After my second surgery I was taking walks in a nearby canyon after 3-4 days. Everyone's different though, so be careful and have a backup plan to call a taxi if you begin feeling weak. I know it sounds extreme, but I did almost black out once. I was on the subway and over the course of 2-3 minutes my vision and hearing very, very slowly went away. I had to ask for someone's seat or I would have fallen down.
Ice packs and hot pads
My surgeon recommended that I use ice packs for the first 36 hours in the hospital. After that, he said no more ice packs. I asked about heating pads, and he said he didn't think they are necessary. My second surgeon did recommend the heat packs after 36 hours though, so ask your surgeon.
Dry skin and Vitamin A&D Ointment (Not Vaseline)
The skin on parts of your face including your lips will likely go a bit dry in the first 1-2 weeks. This is normal, but preventable. Use Vitamin A&D ointment. Trust me on this. Buy it and use it beginning in the hours following surgery, or you'll have cracked, dry lips before you know it. My first surgeon recommended it, and said to not use Vaseline Petroleum Jelly since it will dry out your lips after a few days use. See this product on the Products page.
Make sure your family, friends and curious co-workers all know you're having jaw surgery for a legitimate reason. One thing you don't want is a large group of people who you know thinking that you might be getting the surgery just for looks, as if it's some sort of celebrity plastic surgery. I realize that some of you might be reading this and thinking "I don't care what other people think", and that's fine, but I think this is good advice. If anyone asks, be sure to make clear that they realize jaw surgery is a major operation requiring at least 1-3 weeks recovery at home. Sometimes you may hear comparisons to wisdom teeth removal, a completely different operation. Jaw surgery is major surgery. Wisdom teeth removal is a walk in the park. At the same time, don't talk about your operation too much. You don't want to make it sound like you're going for attention!
Long cotton swabs
Ask the hospital for some long cotton swabs. These will allow you to reach in the back of your mouth to your throat or in the sides of your mouth to clean out food or mucus. I didn't end up using but maybe 5-6 of them after my first surgery, but they are helpful. I couldn't use them after my second surgery since my jaws were wired shut. See this product on the Products page.
Will you need to be wired shut? Why are people wired shut? Is it a horrible experience? What's it like? Well, I wasn't wired shut the first time and my jaws didn't heal in the right places, and that's part of the reason why I needed a second surgery. I am updating this page during my second surgery recovery in April 2015, and right now my jaws are wired shut. The good news about your jaws being wired shut is that it locks your jaws in place to heal in the proper place. The bad news is that you won't be able to eat/drink anything unless it's liquid. Small particles can't get through. If you're worried about breathing, it's only an issue for the first few nights when you're still clearing snot and blood out of your nose. Once your nose air passageways are open, breathing is easy. Your jaws being wired shut will likely not cause any extra pain the first few days.
If you are prescribed Vicodin, be aware that it does cause nausea. One way I avoided nausea after my first surgery was to drink a full cup of soup, then some water, then half a shake, then the Vicodin pill with water, then the other half of the shake. I later tried taking it mid-shake without soup, and that worked too. Vicodin will give you the feeling that your bed sheets are super soft, though bear in mind it wears off in a few hours. You might wake up groggy and uncomfortable at around 4am. In my second surgery I had complications drinking the liquid Hycet. I vomited twice in one day several days following surgery, and my surgeon told me to stop using the medicine since my body wasn't reacting well.
It will be difficult to swallow a pill during the first few days. In fact, it might be difficult to swallow anything the first few days. After my first surgery swallowing was a big issue. This includes water. Blend the pill or chop it into pieces and mix with water. My first surgeon said this is ok to do. I was able to swallow a pill normally a few days after I got home. After my second surgery I had zero issues swallowing liquid.
Sleep with your head elevated.
Sleep the first 1-2 weeks on your back, head elevated. After my first surgery I used two thick memory foam pillows under my head on the bed, and also slept in a recliner the first few nights. Two feather pillows that are easy to mash down might not be enough to qualify for "elevating your head". Ask your surgeon before you return to sleeping on your side, or normally with one pillow. Sleeping with your head elevated helps to reduce swelling. By week 3-4 I was sleeping normally, and by week 6 it seemed even better. My experience following my second surgery was even better. I was sleeping through the night with ease after two weeks.
The best syringes
If you're having issues swallowing the first few days and are looking for what I believe is the best kind of syringe to use to feed yourself for the first several days, don't worry. Good syringes are available online and perhaps in your hospital. The exact name of one I used is "Bard Irrigation Tray with 70cc Piston Syringe". It holds a lot of liquid. You can see it and another syringe with a curved tip good for rinsing, all on the Products page. Ask your surgeon ahead of time if the hospital will provide the syringes. Note that you might not need to use a syringe, because you might not have any issues swallowing. I didn't have to use a syringe after my second surgery. I was able to drink water easily and even slept 6-8 hours right after my surgery!
Prescribed and OTC drugs
If you're curious, here is what I was prescribed after my first surgery: 80 pills of 600mg Ibuprofen and 25 pills of Vicodin (Hydrocodone) for pain, and two large bottles of the mouth rinse Hi Tech Pharmacal Chlorhexidne Gluconate Oral Rinse (Peridex), 0.12%. I was also advised to pick up some stuff over-the-counter: saline nasal spray, Afrin nasal spray, Crest zero alcohol mouth rinse and Vitamin A&D Ointment. You can probably substitute the Crest mouth rinse for any other brand as long as it has zero alcohol. See some of these products on the Products page.
After my second surgery I was prescribed liquid Hycet (Vicodin), Dexamethasone (Decadron) for swelling, zero alcohol mouthwash (after a few days), liquid penicillin and liquid Motrin over-the-counter.
I was told I could begin showering on the day after my surgery, though I waited until I got home on Friday (two days later). I took five or six showers a day for the first several days, only because it was one of the only things that felt good. Also, you can drool as much as you want without worry...
For my second surgery I showered when I arrived home the day after, since I stayed in a hotel for the first night.
Easy drink cups
Use small, flimsy 8oz plastic cups to drink soup, water, prune juice, shakes, etc. These cups will fit to the shape of your swelling lips, minimizing spilling (but you will still spill some). It may be very difficult the first few days to get liquid to go down your throat. I'll try to describe the feeling. It feels like you are trying to open your throat up again. Each gulp will feel difficult. If you're having issues this becomes much easier after a week, but only as long as you've been practicing (and failing by dripping liquid all over the ground) with the cup. I assume that sticking with the syringe too long because you don't want to man up and try with a cup will only result in a longer recovery period. You can see a similar product on the Products page.
Tips to drink successfully if you're having issues swallowing.
Stand in front of a mirror with your cup or syringe. Seeing yourself helps. Also, tip your head back even though you'll feel tight pressure in the bones in your face (they're just starting to heal!). Just don't be surprised when you drip liquid all over the floor. It's normal. Just wipe it up.
Hospital eating and drinking
I was served the same meal six times in a row before I left the hospital following my first surgery: Vegetable broth, a can of ginger ale, water, some orange gel thing and apple juice. I rarely ate any of it. This is because it was difficult at first to use a syringe and also because none of it was very appetizing. Still though, I tried. You have to try. You will recover a bit faster if you try to get back in the normal swing of things as soon as possible. If you're like me and you don't eat much in the hospital, you can rest easy that you'll receive a little nourishment through your IV needles, but only in the hospital. Once you're out, you better be ready to eat and drink.
Ensure vs Boost
Both Ensure and Boost have lots of nutrition. They also both have a lot of sugar, but I didn't worry about that during my recovery periods. I definitely ended up liking Ensure Plus and Ensure Complete the most. One of my local pharmacies carried the dark chocolate flavoring which is delicious. Just keep in mind that there are several different kinds of Ensure. There's Ensure, Ensure Plus, Ensure Clear, Ensure High Protein, Ensure Complete and maybe others. Ensure does not taste bad, so don't worry about that!
There are a few situations which might aggravate your post-op recovery. Be careful when showering. It's slippery. Also be careful stepping down from a step ladder or going downstairs as your foot slamming on the ground could reverberate up to your jaw. Be on the lookout for uneven surfaces on sidewalks during your walks outside. Cabinets are another thing to be cautious about. Open slowly and close slowly. Don't hit yourself in the face. Lastly, when walking around your home at night when the lights are out and you're returning from the bathroom, don't slam your face into a door, doorframe or wall.
Buy a flashlight.
You can use the flashlight that your phone's flash provides, but it might be good to pick up a small one to have during recovery. I used a Leatherman. Use it in the mirror to investigate areas of your mouth for trapped food, or to find out what's causing gum pain. You can see a similar product on the Products page.
If your chest turns a color like... let's say... yellow, don't worry. It happened to me. After both surgeries. This is standard post-surgical bruising. No need to do anything about it. It goes away. It has something to do with the swelling and you having your head elevated when you sleep.
Ask for extra items
Before you leave the hospital, ask for extra items like long cotton swabs on sticks, syringes, etc. Take advantage of free stuff. I mean it. When you get home, those nurses won't be there to help you anymore. I was able to get a lot of free, helpful items after both surgeries, and we didn't have to beg. They offered.
Cleaning your nose
Your nose will be a bit nasty for the first 1-2 weeks. It'll bleed constantly the first 2-3 days, and you'll need to use wet cotton swabs to clean your nose since you will not be allowed to blow your nose with a tissue for the first several weeks. Blowing your nose could cause excessive bleeding, something about opening blood clots, so don't do it. And don't be afraid to stick your pinky finger in your nose to see if there are any dry pieces in there. You can't see everything in the mirror, nor can you feel your nose very well since it will be a bit numb, so go for a pick.
The reason why your nose is so nasty/snotty/bloody is because the anesthesiologist sticks a tube up your nostril to help you breath during surgery.
Dealing with nausea
This isn't a fun topic. There will be blood in your stomach after surgery, and it might come up that night. It did for me. Twice the night of the first surgery. Several times the night of the second surgery. Have a bucket nearby. The hospital will provide one. After it comes up, avoid more nausea by asking a nurse to give you IV fluids to stop nausea from setting in, if recommended.
Roll and plant your feet to get out of bed.
Sitting up after sleeping in bed at night requires some strength in your face, believe it or not. You'll feel it if you try to sit up without using your arms. Roll toward the edge of the bed, then use your arms and legs to get up. This won't be an issue after the first several days. This was only an issue for me after my first surgery. No issues after surgery two.
You can freeze sliced bananas in bags to preserve them if you buy too many. Then let them thaw a few minutes, blend them into a shake and enjoy. You can do this with other foods as well, but I did it with bananas. I wasn't able to do this after my second surgery with my jaws wired shut. Even bananas blended with an expensive blender didn't get between my teeth.
Something trapped in your nose?
Have you started snoring after surgery? Does it sound like something is in your nose? Does your nasal passage feel weird? This is not pleasant, but I removed a gigantic snot ball following my first surgery, and the same thing happened after my second surgery. I think both times some cartilage may have come out. Again, it's not pleasant but as soon as it came out of my nose I felt like I could breathe again. Remember to not blow your nose for 1-2 weeks after surgery.
One last thing...
If you are able I'd appreciate any donations possible, as I pay some bills to have this website remain up, and to support my hobbies. If you'd like to give, you can do it to firstname.lastname@example.org on Vimeo or Paypal!
Thank you for anything you can give. After my first surgery was unsuccessful, I had to pay for my second surgery 100% out of pocket, and even a small amount of money given to me in appreciation of this website would mean a lot.
My happy foods list
- Lucky Charms cereal with cold milk
- Buffalo chicken soft tacos with cheese, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, sour cream and guacamole with a side of black beans and Mexican rice
- Crunchy chips and salsa
- Cheese quesadillas with sour cream and guacamole
- French toast
- Sausage patties cooked well done
- Pastrami with mustard and swiss on rye
- Steak fries covered in a mound of cheddar cheese and bacon bits, including scallions, with cool aioli on the side
- A really good thick and juicy cheeseburger with fries
- Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese
- Chicken drumsticks covered in butter, then breaded with flour, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper, then baked
- Chocolate ice cream and brownie sundae with whipped cream and chocolate syrup
- Cheddar Pringles
- Taco salad with mounds of chicken or beef, cheese, rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole
- Lays Sour Cream & Onion potato chips
- Jersey Mikes and their magnificent steak Philly and chicken Philly sandwiches, and Caesar and buffalo chicken wraps
- Buffalo chicken Caesar salad with big, crunchy croutons
Yeah, I'm hungry. (This was typed out when I was in recovery with my jaw shut.)
Good ideas for things to do during recovery
- Run errands if you live in a city where you can walk to places like shops, the bank and the post office.
- Watch documentaries. I had several running on tv during my recovery, all streaming from Netflix. Also, start making a "watch later" list of videos on YouTube ahead of time.
- Take some time to research a charity you'd like to help, and give.
- Get on eBay and sell some stuff you've been meaning to sell for a long time. I sold several items and made some cash.
- Make a list of pros and cons about your current job so you have time to re-evaluate whether or not you're on the right path. It sounds like an odd tip, but this will be one of the longest periods of time you'll ever have away from work or school to re-evaluate your life. (I just started a great new job five months ago, so I'm not referring to me!)
- Help and interact with other people on the internet regarding their jaw surgery questions by searching for "jaw surgery" on Twitter. It passes the time and is helpful
- Wash and dry those extra household blankets and other items you might not normally put in a weekly wash load.
- Walk around each room in your house one at a time, see what bothers you whether it means cleaning or home improvement, and then make a plan to fix and improve.
- Take this time to order items unrelated to the surgery that you know you'll use in the future, such as a bulk pack of toothpaste, printer paper, several kinds of tape, pens, trash bags, coffee filters and shampoo. You'll be home during the day, so you'll be able to accept deliveries. And you'll need this stuff eventually, so if you have the money, why not stock up?
- Organize important documents in your house like lease or mortgage papers, tax and bank documents, birth certificates, social security cards and passports.
- If it's tax season, get your taxes done. Now!
- Buy a greeting card for the loved one and/or friend who helped get you home for your recovery. Consider making a custom card on Shutterfly.
- Does the battery in your phone seem to die quickly, but you aren't quite ready for a new phone? Use this free time to head to a third party mobile phone shop so you can get a replacement battery for a price much lower than going to an Apple store or other official store. Just make sure to not be the one driving unless your surgeon says it's ok. For example, a new iPhone battery is around $40 at a third party shop. Not buying a new phone through a provider means you don't have to sign a new contract.
- Take this time to re-evaluate your internet service provider options. There are likely several in your area. Compare speeds, pricing and availability. Maybe you should switch to a new provider.
- Go through your closets, find clothes you know you won't wear anymore and give them away.
- Organize your medicine cabinet. Advil, Tylenol, DayQuil, NyQuil, cough drops, etc. Check for expiration dates.
- Organize all of your tools. Hammers, screwdrivers, drill bits, that power plug for your drill and all the other tools. Also, buy a small screwdriver set. This is one I have.
- Organize all of your cleaning supplies. Buy new dish cleaning pads.
- Organize light bulbs and other electrical supplies. Buy a few short extension cords if you don't have any. You know when you're at the airport waiting for your flight and you could plug in your phone, but someone's sitting in the seat next to the outlet? Always bring a 10-15 foot extension cord in your travel bag.
- Shine and clean your shoes.
- Organize that drawer we all have that has batteries, random screws, instructions, etc.
- Recycle old phones, computers and other electronics safely at a store such as Best Buy.
- Discover new podcasts. Play a new one in the background and see if it interests you.
- Delete phone/tablet apps and computer programs you no longer use. Perform some maintenance.
- Gather all the loose gift cards in your house into one place, and order stuff online to use them.
- Clean out closets and throw away junk you no longer need.
- Practice your hobby and improve your skills.
- Buy a puzzle before your surgery. If you haven't done a puzzle in a while, you may have forgotten how interesting they are.
- Buy a Lego set.
- Do all of the dishes every day beginning a few days after you get home. Remember that the people that live with you are coming home from a long day at work or school and it's always nice to have an empty kitchen sink, empty dish rack and empty dishwasher. It's also very, very light exercise. Don't lay around all day.
- Write about your experience daily, even if you don't publish it. Do it so you can read it years down the road and remember what you went through, and that you made it.
- Take daily photos to track your swelling progress. Don't feel like you need to share them online. The photos are for you. They aren't meant for that guy on Facebook who you knew from high school in that one class but never talked to.
- Sign up for an online backup service so you can finally get all of your files in a second and, hopefully, safer place. I recommend Google Drive.
- If you have a car and garage, clean them out. Don't drive until your surgeon says you can.
- Plant a garden, but be sure to stay hydrated while outside.
- Read a book.
- Edit a video and release it, like this one:
Note: Please keep in mind that I do not have a medical degree. I am sharing information based only upon my personal recovery. It's always right to ask your surgeon or orthodontist if you have questions!
If you find my website to be helpful, please consider donating a few bucks to help pay my annual bill. If you'd like to email me with any questions about your own recovery, please use the contact page. Thanks!