When I had the arch bars removed, I was promised that my gums would bleed easily for the next two or three weeks, particularly when I flossed. The gums have recovered faster than I expected, though. They bled in about three places the first night of flossing and two places for a couple of nights thereafter. There was one spot that bled for a couple more nights, but by now the bleeding has stopped altogether.
My accident was ten weeks ago today. With the teeth having been repaired and arch bars off, there are no obvious visual signs of serious injury remaining. I do still have scars from the road rash on my elbows and hands. My facial wounds healed long ago, but I’m finding that the bump on my chin where I had stitches is very prone to getting cut when I shave.
I sometimes get a tingly numbness on the left side of my face, but this seems to have grown more slight over the past few days. Occasionally, I feel a little discomfort (which I would not describe as pain) on the left side of my jaw. I do get a little bit of pain on the right side of my jaw when I open my mouth very wide, but I think it’s just a pulled muscle. Sometimes I also get a soft sound coming from the left side of my jaw when I open or close my mouth. The best word I can think of to describe it is a creaking sound, but I don’t think that captures it perfectly.
I’ve quickly come to believe that the best thing about not having arch bars on my teeth is that it’s much easier to keep my teeth clean. Food was always getting stuck in the arch bars and the wires that secured them to my teeth, and it would often take fifteen minutes or so to clean them with the toothbrush and the WaterPik and then dental floss. Without the wires, it’s much easier: I just brush and then floss.
Another great thing about having the arch bars out is that my gums don’t hurt all the time. I can’t remember whether I mentioned this in a previous post, but when I had the arch bars on my gums would always hurt a little bit where the wires touched them. Sometimes the arch bars and wires would move slightly, and then my gums would hurt a bit more. It wasn’t that bad, because I eventually got used to it and stop noticing it, but now that the pain is gone, I notice that my gums feel much better.
I went in to the oral surgeon’s office today expecting to learn some new jaw exercises. In view of my recent reading, I was somewhat skeptical of the idea that my opening was actually going to get better, so I showed up prepared to ask whether it was reasonable to
When the oral surgeon came into the examination room, he asked me how my opening was. I started to answer before he clarified that he wanted to see it. I opened my mouth, and to my surprise, he told me that it was better than he expected. He added that most people can put three fingers in their mouth, and then demonstrated by trying to put three of his fingers in his mouth. The third one didn’t really fit, though. He had me try to do the same, and I was able to put two fingers in easily, but my opening wasn’t wide enough for a third finger. The oral surgeon said it was close enough, demonstrated with his fingers that it was only a millimeter or two from normal, and then watched as I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times to make sure that it was opening straight. He said that I “totally qualify” to have my braces taken off and asked if I wanted them removed right then. I wanted little more, so I answered in the affirmative.
The oral surgeon told me that the wires around my teeth would poke my gums as he pulled them out, so he gave me three options for counteracting the pain: nitrous oxide and a numbing gel; nitrous oxide, the numbing gel, and novacaine; or general anesthesia. I chose the first of these options, and the oral surgeon told me that most people can handle it, adding that it was “like having a really mean hygienist.”
The oral surgeon moved me to another room, where an assistant put gauze in my mouth, spread the numbing gel on my gums, and hooked me up with nitrous oxide through my nose. The oral surgeon came into the room and started to say, “The adventure that began in April…”. He said it in this overly dramatic tone that sounded like it might have come from one of Barack Obama’s speeches (video; see 9:44), but the second half of the oral surgeon’s sentence, “…comes to a close,” was decidedly less dramatic. He then took the gauze out of my mouth, told me to open my mouth, and cut each of the wires on the top of my mouth before pulling them out. It hurt a little bit, but the pain went away when the wire was out, so it wasn’t bad. At this point, I realized that I had actually started breathing through my mouth again, and I wasn’t feeling the nitrous oxide as much. The oral surgeon then removed the bottom wires. Somewhere in the middle of removing the bottom wires, I noticed that I was sweating a lot, but I don’t know if this was nervousness, an effect of the numbing agents, or a result of the room actually being hot.
The oral surgeon turned off the nitrous oxide and turned on a supply of oxygen, and told me that I didn’t need to return to his office, but I could call if I had concerns. He added that I’d be ready to chew the hardest foods (which he identified as crisp apples, hard French bread, and very hard vegetables) around July 4. The assistant gave me a toothpaste and toothbrush and had me brush my teeth. I had brushed before going, so there wasn’t anything but blood on them, but I complied anyway. The assistant told me that my gums would bleed easily for the next two or three weeks, but that I shouldn’t let this keep me from flossing.
Finally, I have some pictures. First up is a picture of my mouth, sans arch bars.
It isn’t perfectly straight, but the appearance of crookedness is exaggerated by the fact that my front teeth are not the same length. The second picture is of me trying to stuff my fingers in my mouth.
These days, the only major sign of my accident is the arch bars on my teeth. The oral surgeon told me that they’d stay on until my mouth is opening normally enough that he is sure they won’t be needed again. As the days progress, I find myself increasingly impatient for this to happen. I don’t particularly mind the look, and the arch bars aren’t even that visible. It’s just that I feel like I’m about ten years too old to have braces on my teeth.
Over the last week or so, I’ve been stretching my jaw muscles more and more. The oral surgeon only told me I should work on opening wider, but sometimes I work on the side-to-side motions a bit, hoping that it might help to correct the problem of the right side of my mouth opening further than the left.
The truth is that I don’t even really know how far my mouth should be able to open, or even what straight is. The latter question seems like it should be easily settled, but it’s not so easy because my front teeth aren’t perfectly straight. Some of them have shifted slightly since the accident (owing to my inability to wear a retainer while my jaw was wired), and two were chipped and then repaired artificially. The oral surgeon wants me to focus on keeping my chin straight, but even that’s not so easy because my chin has a small bump on the right side where it was stitched up. As for the width of the opening, I haven’t been able to find out what is normal, but I’m pretty sure that it’s wider than my opening of about four centimeters.
If there’s one thing that keeps me from sitting around and exercising my jaw all day long, it’s the understanding that my trying too hard to fit in may well have caused the accident in the first place. I’m not quite sure what could go wrong here. I doubt that my muscles are strong enough to break the bone again, but I’d rather not find out.
At the time of my accident, I didn’t take any pictures of the injuries in large part because I knew that my family would find the images disturbing. Now that the accident is six weeks behind me, I’ve taken a few photos that show just how little is left behind.
The most obvious pieces of evidence are in my mouth, where I have the arch bars, three rubber bands, and two chipped teeth.
Next most obvious is my right elbow.
There’s a little bit of a lump on my chin, where I had 12 stitches, still. It makes shaving difficult, but I don’t think it’s really as obvious as the following photo makes it look.
The weirdest remaining evidence is probably the dent in the palm of my left hand (below the pinky, almost on the wrist). The skin over that spot was torn off in the accident, and it seems that the muscle there was pushed off to the side.
There are also a few pink spots on the backs of my hands and my left elbow. There are a few spots on my legs, too, but I don’t even know if those are from this accident. None of the wounds on my legs were serious enough that I (or the nurse at University Health Services) saw it fit to bandage them.
In related news, I’ve discovered that taking close-up pictures of myself is difficult.
It doesn’t feel like it’s been this long, but my accident was five weeks ago this morning. Life is pretty much back to normal, aside from being more lost than usual in my classes and not being able to chew.