Julie's Story

Today I was listening to a Rachmaninoff concerto, something which I had begun to play at 18 when I got to college and was asked by my piano teacher why I wasn’t a piano major.  Forward 20 years, and I’m struggling to play songs that I played with ease and admirable technique at 10 years old, after just a year of lessons.  Why?  Because I wore 5 years of ‘traditional’ orthodontics while growing an entire foot.  I grew in restraints, such that my palate and skull did not keep pace with the rest of my body, and what is worse, I was given a headgear, which yanked my upper palate into the top and back of my skull, compressing cranial sutures, compressing (look at a diagram of the skull) brain matter, tissues, muscles, nerves, and veins. 

From the time I wore headgear, onward, my neck posture was never the same.  My neck moved as far forward as my maxilla was yanked back, in my body’s attempt to preserve breathing space.  I lost part of my lower lordosis, and wondered why, in dance class, I suddenly lost inches upon inches of flexibility.  My shoulders were constantly locked, and my concentration went from bad to worse.  I began to suffer with chronic sinusitis.  Over time, year by year, I lost facility in my right arm.  Talent meant that I could ignore it, but by 22, I gave up piano, so confused and overwhelmed that my right fingers wouldn’t move as fast.  At 39, I’m spending everything I have to maintain a posture that is in no way comfortable, safe for my neck, or stable.  I gave up my opera career (and it really was a career) 3 years back.

Think about it:  an orthodontic headgear is primarily used on those who have significant facial mal-development.  This means that those who require a headgear already have an overbite and crowding in their upper jaw, which has to do with a lack of proper growth in the upper jaw and the uppermost parts of the jaw.   For the lower jaw to come forward properly, the cheekbones, palate, and upper jaw in general must be developing at pace with the rest of the body.  Because of serious asthma and allergies and ensuing open-mouth breathing, mine did not, so I had crowding in my upper jaw.  What the headgear did was take an already vitally serious issue, and make it many times worse, so as to create the appearance of normalcy in my mouth. 

Instead of helping me develop the upper part of my face and encouraging the lower jaw to come forward, they pulled with great force the upper part of my face/jaw backwards, to pull teeth backwards, against the direction of growth, in order to make room for crowded teeth.  What they should have done is expanded the upper jaw to help it grow, and make room for crowded teeth in the logical direction.  Because my upper jaw is now set further back that it was supposed to be, my lower jaw is forced backwards because it too cannot be where it is supposed to be, because it cannot go more forward than the upper jaw.  This creates compression in my TMJ and makes the problem even worse.  Now, when my lower jaw wants to move further forward to a place where the TMJ can operate comfortably, my lower jaw has to come out in front of it, but if I do this, I cannot chew or speak.  Try to place your lower jaw in front of your upper jaw and see what happens when you try to chew and speak, it becomes impossible.  In any case, because I do not chew, swallow, or speak in that position, I have to force my upper jaw backwards and after having done this for years, the TMJ joints are fully dysfunctional.  Even the standard medical community has agreed this was caused by headgear, and is a problem so bad that any surgeon worth his salt has said no to touching it, since so much is in disarray and the problem is anything but clearcut, unilateral, or even bilateral. 

So of course, for 25 years of my life, I have been further retracting my lower jaw so as to chew, speak, and appear normal.  It’s a terrible way to live.  X-rays show that I have 35% of the breathing space of a normal adult in nasal and pharyngeal cavities.  This most certainly explains the chronic fatigue and sinus infections I had as a teenager.  It also explains the sleep apnea I was diagnosed with years ago.

Even if an orthodontist that still “believes” in tooth extractions and headgears would tell me “yes, but you might have had a sleep apnea even without orthodontics because you had an overbite,” I could answer, “but does that make it right to pull my upper maxilla backwards, cramping an already cramped breathing space?”.

Dr. Hermann Sailer looked at me.  He is one of the foremost orthognathic surgeons in the world.  Without me saying anything, without reading the forms I had just filled out, he said “victim of headgear.”  He showed me exactly where headgear retracts the upper jaw into the skull on my x-ray, and made it quite clear and obvious how this forever alters the growth pattern such that the face grows even longer, and loses its horizontal development. 

It’s now been more than 20 years since I was a teenager that I wake up choking at night, and the orthodontic community needs to answer to this.  Five years of allowing someone to restrain my growth and pull hard on my skull while compressing everything within could not have been a good thing by any means.  For the past century, we’ve had alternatives to headgear and growth restriction, such as maxillary expansion and even oral exercises to help develop the lower jaw forward.  The BioBlock and Orthotropics have been around for decades, the Crozat has been around since the 1920’s, the ALF has been around for decades and there are many others.  So if an orthodontist tells you that limiting the forward growth of your upper jaw, or extracting teeth to make room is the only answer, I urge you to think twice.  

Showing 17 reactions

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  • Lisa
    commented 2023-01-24 04:42:00 -0800
    Kim, I do believe you are correct in saying molars cannot be pushed back where they were indeed being pulled back by the headgear. I also believe this is one of the reasons why people fear dentists and when it comes right down to it this is still just your opinion. Have you ever seen her in person? Have you ever treated her? I’m sure you know far more than I do since I am not a dentist or orthodontist but you can’t honestly say that you have all the answers. So quit talking down to her. That will get you nowhere with anyone. Also, with that being said, you say you haven’t seen headgear anchorage or distillation since the late 80s. Many of us adults had headgear and/or (retainers)in the 80s. And not to pick it apart, but the maxillary sinuses are part of your sinuses. And the sinuses include your nasal cavity. you’re obviously going to feel stuffed up when you have a sinus infection like chronic bilateral maxillary sinusitis that can cause chronic headaches chronic and sinus infections. Honestly, why are you picking this girl apart? What’s in it for you? Do you think you’re going to gain any patients out of this? Do you have a shared experience? Have you had headgear? Honestly. You should be ashamed of yourself. But it seems like you’re just a troll who likes to show how much more they know than everybody else. You are being part of the problem. Be a solution.
  • Bjorn
    commented 2022-03-07 11:22:22 -0800
    Kim, Why don’t you try ALF or DNA on your patients?
    You will get the answer whether they work on patients or not and obviously patient will give you testimonial.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2021-12-01 18:55:31 -0800
    “I looked at my own xrays and noticed the roots of my back molars were almost in my nasal cavity.”

    No they were not. They were close to your MAXILLARY SINUS. The roots of maxillary 1st, 2nd, and sometimes 3rd molar are very close to the floor of the maxillary sinus. This is true whether or not patients had any form of orthodontics or not. This is why sinus pain often imitates toothache pain.

    The Crozat is an antiquated appliance that provides poor control of movement It does not expand bone in any way nor does it create more space except by tooth tipping. That is why it is not used anymore. It was a tooth-tipping device, no more.
  • Steven Loya
    commented 2021-11-29 00:31:12 -0800
    Thank you posting this. I never knew other people had the same issues after wearing a headgear.

    I always felt like the headgear remove too much space and my tongue was being forced back and caused it to press against my front teeth. I thought I had got used to it but now that I’m older I’ve realized that I unconsciously let my lower jaw hang down and slightly forward to accommodate for the lack of space. My mouth is still uncomfortable and squished when I keep my jaws closed together. I have TMJ as well. I feel like I should have had an expander because my molars are set very narrow and touch both sides of my tongue which has actually caused indents and marking to form on my tongue.

    I had my wisdom teeth extracted when they were barely starting to grow in because I thought they were causing headaches, but when the headaches continued I looked at my own xrays and noticed the roots of my back molars were almost in my nasal cavity. I’m not a dentist and haven’t seen other xrays but those roots were higher than the others. I would confuse the headaches with sinus headaches but the pain was focus just above the roof of my mouth.

    I also have a problem with a nerve in my neck that causes pain in my left shoulder blade. It always start right where the headgear band pressed against my neck.

    I’m glad this is being talked about otherwise how would they know what is happening to patients beyond the time of the orthodontistry.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2021-10-13 18:53:56 -0700
    1. Molars could not be “pushed back” with headgear unless it was 25 hour a day distalization headgear. Did you wear it 24 hours a day?

    2. Not sure what you mean by “underbite.” Normal ortho finishing goal is 1-2 millimeters overjet and 1-2mm overbite. Perhaps you mean you have end-to-end occlusion.

    3. A late growth spurt of the mandible sometimes messes up occlusion, and has nothing to do with headgear. Have seen this happen many times after finishing an ortho case perfectly. You never know how late a child will grow. Often growth surprises us.

    4. Most clinicians have not used anchorage nor distalization headgear since the late 1980s.

    5. It is impossible to know how your occlusion would have turned out with no treatment at all.

    6. The possibility of treatment as an adult exists. I have done ortho on a patient as old as 74.
  • choose honesty
    commented 2021-10-13 03:47:47 -0700
    Headgear at age 8 or 9 ruined my bite. It pushed my upper molars back so much, that they are now angled backwards. The headgear hurt badly as a child, but I trusted my orthodondist’s flawed assessment, and wore it. He was worried about an overbite. It gave me a permanent underbite so that my top front teeth are wearing down on my bottom teeth. It ruined the alignment of all my teeth, so much so that I once had a dentist ask “how do you eat?”. I honestly wish pain and physical harm on the orthodontist who did this to me to this day. And it has been 40 years of living this way.
  • Al Evans
    commented 2021-09-20 05:04:48 -0700
    I would like to perform extraction/retraction orthodontics with a shovel on the so called medical professionals that ruined my airway and face when I was a defenceless child.
  • Jennifer Lackey
    commented 2021-05-25 13:54:45 -0700
    I have a very similar story and due to some of these rude comments I don’t feel comfortable sharing much. But I will say this, my story is very similar to Julie’s and I’ve had chronic sinus issues since getting my headgear at age 7. I’ve suffered 24 years of chronic pain misdiagnosed as “migraines” and only recently learned that the headgear was the cause of my chronic face pain. I can vividly remember crying and vomiting as a child because the bones in my face hurt so badly. The headgear needs to be banned and if you didn’t live it AS A PATIENT maybe think twice before committing about “facts.” I doubt you’ve ever examined Julie’s mouth. And it’s not “beating a dead horse” when there are people who could experience life-changing pain relief by learning where their pain came from.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2021-05-01 18:01:51 -0700

    Read my last post again. Then read it again. Then read it over and over until your get it into your head. Don’t just make stuff up in your head.

    1. The last time I remember headgear being used by a sizable number of dentists was the 1980s. (Unless you are talking about reverse pull headgear, which protracts the maxilla forward in very young maxillary deficient patients.) We have been using Herbst and other appliances instead for a long time. You ARE beating a dead horse to death.

    There was also high-pull headgear, intended to intercept excessive maxillary descent and gummy smiles. Compliance was never good and it had limited benefit, so we have to resort to surgery as our only remedy for that.

    2. We never got distalization of the entire maxilla with headgear. With 16 hour a day wear, the most we could usually get was anchorage of the molars to decrowd the anteriors when premolar extraction was unavoidable.

    3. To my knowledge, there are no scientific studies that correlate chronic sinus problems with either extraction orthodontics or headgear. It is a figment of your imagination. Allergies and thus sinus problems usually occur with more age with a hyper-functional immune system. You must think that just because sinus problems usually surface AFTER orthodontics, orthodontics necessarily causes them. There is no causation.

    Too many cases were done by premolar and even molar extraction in the past, it is true. This started to change in the 1980s. It is impossible to do some orthodontic cases without extractions. Expansion has its limitations, especially in adults. Never having done orthodontics, you cannot comprehend that fact.

    Mark Twain once wryly observed that it is easier to fool someone than convinced them that they have been fooled. You are the perfect example of what Twain was talking about.
  • Cindy Tarotreader
    commented 2021-05-01 06:47:50 -0700
    I think it is really sad how many dentists have commented on this with “why are we beating a dead horse” with this topic,”blaming your sinus issues on headgear is a far stretch”. It doesn’t take a genius to see that yes, this was wrong, the dentists even admit to it here in your comments, yet you’re just expected to turn a blind eye. Like it’s just too bad for you that dentistry has been taking a long time to come out of a mid evil time period… it’s still struggling to move past this.

    True professionals in any field will acknowledge when something from the past was wrong, but it should never be something that is callously swept under the rug. Your decrease in your quality of life, a life that you would have had, should non of this had been done deserves to be heard and if there are dentists and orthodontist worth their salt they will work to find ways to fix the wrongs that have been done in the past.

    The dental communities response here is truly disappointing but it reflects what so many of us know, that many of them are strictly in it for the money. There’s damn good ones out there, but they are harder to find than the egotistical money sucking versions in dentistry.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2020-08-26 18:50:50 -0700
    Most adults, if they had orthodontics at all, did not have headgear. Yet many patients have chronic sinus infections. The maxillary sinus is one of the poorly designed parts of the human body. It is a basin where fluid collects and there is no drain. Bacteria frequently infect the fluid. Why does the fluid form? Frequently because of allergies. I saw evidence of chronic sinus inflammation on a CAT scan today I had taken for planning implant surgery. The patient had never had orthodontics, much less headgear.

    Blaming chronic sinus problems on childhood headgear would be quite a stretch. We might as well blame ingrown toenails on headgear while we are at it.
  • John Smith
    commented 2020-08-26 07:39:12 -0700
    I had headgear when I was a kid, and now have chronic sinus infections. That does not make it 100 percent attritutable, but it is something I suspect.

    I wonder if there are ways to help reverse the effects of headgear, any device or procedure that can help undo the effects? If anyone knows of anything please post, thanks.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2020-03-26 19:52:04 -0700
    LOL! “Orthotropics” is nothing new, and paying attention to facial profile is something orthodontists have done for years.

    NOBODY uses a Croat anymore and for good reason. They are difficult to fabricate and adjust, and offer poor control.
  • Kim Henry
    commented 2020-02-02 18:31:09 -0800
    Why are we beating a dead horse? I have not used a headgear and class II elastics in 20 years of doing orthodontics. I know of no dentist around me who uses headgear. Herbst appliances and other devices replaced headgear a long time ago.

    There are a lot of things that can cause sleep apnea.

    Severely crowded cases often cannot be treated without extractions. Sorry, that is a fact.
  • Dawn Turmenne
    commented 2019-08-03 07:06:48 -0700
    I, too, have been waking up choking at night! In fact, I have been saying those exact same words for years! I am so sorry, and wish that you and I and those affected by this horrible practice could be able to get help! It seems like either money, (for me), or stubbornness, as you mentioned with doctors not wanting to get involved, makes it seem quite impossible for us to get the help we need! I try to be positive, but it is hard when the for some reason “worshipped” medical community won’t help.
  • Jackie Sicilian
    commented 2019-07-20 14:36:46 -0700
    Headgear should be stopped there has to be better ways to treat this. I had braces for 3yrs, headgear at night, it was awful. Now I’m 57 and have fibromyalgia for last 6 years
    It has destroyed my quality of life and im on disability too early. My jaw/tmj is killing me cuz I have a tooth that needs to be pulled or root canal, which will make everything worse.
  • Erin Danes
    commented 2017-02-02 13:12:44 -0800
    I have the same symptoms as Julie and also had a headgear and bionator (moves lower jaw) as a child. No professional ever connected my symptoms to this, not even my dentist. I’m saddened by this as I didn’t have a choice whether to have these procedures, I was only 8 years old.

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