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.