Jerry's Story

When I was 13 years old I went to the orthodontist to start my treatment for braces. My problem was my front teeth stuck out (buck teeth) and my teeth were crooked. The orthodontist explained to me that my teeth were too big and that I would need to extract teeth in order to avoid surgery in the future, (ironically now many orthodontists and oral surgeons say that I am in need of surgery to fix my airway). I remember clearly being afraid and skeptical of having my teeth pulled, thinking “if only my face was big enough to fit all my teeth” (which was the actual problem!), but I went along without complaining because I thought that the orthodontist knew what he was doing, and I was too old to say I was afraid. So, I got the extractions and then got the braces around the mid year of 2010, the same time I started high school. Wonderful. The orthodontist had not started the pulling back phase during this time yet, so my jaws started to grow a little as they should have.

Christmas came along and I remember looking at a picture my uncle just took of me and my family and thinking "wow, I look pretty good in this picture". See, growing up with crooked buck teeth I was always a little self conscious of how I looked. Now that my jaws were growing a little more my features also improved and my confidence went up a little that day. Then a couple weeks later the pulling back of the teeth started. I was told to wear a huge retainer to start pulling my teeth back and I hated it. I couldn't eat with it, even though I was supposed to, and talking with it was extremely difficult. To sum it up it was probably the most unnatural thing to ask a person to wear. Then the changes in my face and body started to happen. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking to myself "man, when I smile my gums show a lot", and I actually started “pulling my face up” because I thought I looked better like that. The truth was my face was starting to grow down instead of forward. My face also started to narrow and lose it's roundish shape, something I noticed after looking at myself in pictures. Then over the course of high school I suffered from horrible anxiety and fatigue. I felt as if I was stuck in a body that just wasn't working right. My confidence and energy levels were extremely low and everyday was a battle. I remember always being tired and anxious and hated the way I looked but I always thought to myself “you can't change the way you look, be grateful because things could always be worse”. Little did I know things were already at their worst.

 Around my sophomore year I started to notice that my shoulders were uneven and that I had horrible posture, so my mom took me to a orthopedic. Turns out I had scoliosis and there was “nothing to do about it”. I later learned that tmj and a narrow airway can cause scoliosis and forward head posture, but at the time I didn't know. I was horrible at sports, but I really wanted to be good at basketball, so I practiced a lot and slowly I developed a good shot and some dribbling skills. I was not athletic at all, but I could keep up. Then something happened to me that scared the daylights out of me.

 My sophomore year I was playing basketball with my friends at gym and I tried really hard to get a rebound. When I came down my heart started to beat like crazy. It was beating really fast, I didn't count how many bpm because I was so scared, but I have to say it was at least 180 bpm. I rushed over to the nurse's office and waited behind somebody who was talking to her. I could breathe fine, but my heart was still beating like crazy. By the time it was my turn to talk to the nurse, it had stopped, and she told me to just relax and that it was probably nothing. I will never forget that day, and I think the orthodontic treatment I received was to blame. When your jaw gets pushed back, it can compress your “vagus nerve” which “relays signals between the brain and various body systems to regulate heart rate...”. At the time I didn't know this, so I went to a heart specialist with my mom and he checked my heart rate and couldn't find anything wrong with it, so he diagnosed me with sinus tachycardia, a fast heartbeat. I don't agree with his diagnosis though, because my heart beats regularly, but will shoot up abruptly randomly during physical activity which doesn't feel good at all and causes me enough discomfort to have to stop and sit out the game until it goes back to normal.

This brings me to one of my many other symptoms, fatigue. 

All of high school I was extremely fatigued. Always tired in the morning and dragging myself through school. Despite this I still tried to get some exercise and tried to work out with weights and play some basketball here and there. Even though I was always exhausted I always tried to push through and didn't stop until I was absolutely out of energy. Little did I know I was causing more harm than good, since my body was already trying so hard to function normally, it had no energy left over for exercise. Thus, I was always tired and pushing myself everyday. I also went through horrible anxiety attacks regularly during school. My heart would beat very fast, my hands would sweat and I felt like I was going to throw up. This happened every week at school, and I couldn't even eat at times because I was so nervous. My Junior year I started trying to figure out what was wrong. I would search the internet for hours, googling all of my symptoms. After a lot of research I finally found the problem.

I figured out that it was my poor oral habits that caused my crooked teeth as a child, not “genetics” or random bad luck, and that the orthodontic treatment I received made it much, much worse. After all my years of horrible health; anxiety, irregular heartbeat, scoliosis, horrible posture, narrow face, gummy smile, chronic fatigue, digestive issues, fighting depression, always trying to stay positive despite the fact I hated how I felt and was living, was all to blame on both bad oral habits and very poor orthodontics.

Now, I'm not blaming my bad health all on the orthodontist, my health wasn't all that great due to my constant mouth breathing. But, the orthodontist is to blame for doing the exact opposite of what I needed. Instead of promoting growth, he restricted it, causing me to be stuck in a broken down body. It's like my body was stuck in second gear, and instead of “shifting” me up to the fourth, my orthodontist downshifted me to first by pulling everything back. This was very counterproductive and took up my window of growth.

Correct treatment should have been teaching me proper oral posture (mouth closed, tongue on the roof of your mouth) and promote jaw growth. Retracting my teeth narrowed my airway even more, my head shifted forward so it can stay open resulting in forward head posture, and my nervous system was shocked. Then my face narrowed and elongated, causing me to distrust how I looked and hurt my self confidence. Now I know looks aren't everything but you have to understand that your face is forever and represents who you are. If I'm always hunched over, eyes sleepy, chin receded, how do you think I'm going to feel? When you always look exhausted and hunched over, your confidence is naturally going to go down.

So, finally my senior year I found this out and began ask many orthodontists and oral surgeons for help. Many orthodontist told me the same stuff “oh, the braces didn't do anything to you, everybody gets depressed and tired. There's nothing you can do”. I knew these “orthodontists” had no idea what they were talking about, I'm the one who lived through the changes, I wasn't going to let them tell me otherwise. Then I set an appointment with an oral surgeon, who told me that yes I was in need of oral surgery. So, I got into braces again thinking oral surgery was my best bet. Although, in the back of my head I kept thinking “maybe there is a way to do this without something as drastic as surgery”. I continued my research and found a brilliant doctor that specialized in tmj. I made an appointment with him and told him what had happened. After visiting countless of doctors, I had finally found one who sided and agreed with me. What a sigh of relief, finally someone who actually knew what he was doing. So he took some x-rays and a ct scan of my airway. My airway was extremely small (as shown in the pictures), I don't know the exact measurements, but they were not good. I also figured out I have sinus issues due to the braces “pushing into my face”. So, I canceled the surgery (which my tmj doctor told me has seen many jaw surgery disasters, and one even ending in suicide! I guess I dodged a bullet there) and decided to go with his treatment.

I am now wearing the ALF appliance with a bite splint to try and reverse what has happened. I have seen minor differences so far, but hopefully more is to come. My doctor tells me this is a slow process, although I wish it could be quicker. Hopefully things will get better.

So, that is my story, I hope one day nobody will go through what I went through. Remember, the problem is not that you're teeth are too big, it's that you jaws are too small. Your face is forever and you have the right to become the best version of yourself, not a broken down one with recessed “straight” teeth and a list of health problems. Orthodontics should be seen as a whole body approach, with so many things connected to it (nerves, digestion, breathing, etc.), it's pretty obvious. See a real professional such as a functional orthodontist while correcting your bad oral habits and your face and body will thank you. Never get extractions, your face is meant to have all those pearly whites. Would you cut off one of your toes if they all didn't fit in your shoes, or would you just get bigger shoes?

Jerry Hernandez

©2014

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