When you’re scheduled to get jaw surgery, you need to prepare properly for a successful outcome. Here are some tips to help you get organized.
Three Weeks Before Surgery
Several weeks before surgery, you should visit your family doctor for a physical check-up and get cleared for surgery. This usually involves a blood test and possibly an EKG (to make sure that your heart is healthy). Your surgeon’s coordinator may also book a time for you to speak to the anesthesiologist. It is best to do these things a few weeks before surgery, just in case an unexpected health issue is revealed.
Speaking of your health, now is also the time to take care of yourself. Keep up your dental hygiene routine, eat a balanced diet, and get regular exercise. Most people who have jaw surgery wind up losing weight because they can’t drink enough calories. If you need to lose weight, this might work to your advantage. However, if you don’t want or need to lose weight, consider trying to gain some weight beforehand to compensate.
The first few days after surgery may go by like a blur, and it will be hard for you to keep track of your medications. Now is the time to arrange for a caregiver or caregivers. Someone should be with you 24/7 for the first few days, and should be in charge of managing your meds.
Take pictures of your face at all angles so that you will have a point of reference for after surgery.
Consider joining ArchWired’s Metal Mouth Message Board’s Jaw Surgery forum. There you can communicate with other adults who are going through (or who have gone through) jaw surgery, and even make a “surgery buddy” to help support you in the process! It’s free to join and is better than a Facebook Group because older topics don’t fall off the face of the earth as time goes on — making it easier to search and find the information you need.
Two Weeks Before Surgery
If you like to cook, now is the time to begin making and freezing some pureed or soft meals for yourself. Not sure what to make? There are soft-food cookbooks and recipes online that may give you ideas.
If your doctor has written your post-surgery prescriptions, get them filled now if you can. Many doctors prescribe an antibiotic for after surgery, so you may want to also get a good probiotic to help restore your normal flora, or be sure to eat yogurt in the days after surgery.
You may need to stop taking certain medications a few weeks to a few days before surgery. Medications such as Ibuprofen and other NSAID drugs thin your blood and may promote bleeding. Be sure to ask your doctor what medications to avoid, and how far in advance to stop taking them.
Make sure that your caregiver has authorization to pick up your prescriptions, if necessary.
This is also the time to begin stocking up on items that will make your life easier and more comfortable after surgery. You don’t want to do too much stressful running around right before surgery. Shopping online is great, but remember to factor in shipping time and unexpected shipping delays.
Here is a list of things you should have on hand for your recovery:
- Protein powders
- A blender (VitaMix is the king of blenders, but if you can’t afford that, even a small bullet blender will do)
- Yogurts, puddings, custards and non-chew soups
- Pre-made protein shakes (such as Ensure, Orgain, or Atkins)
- Drinks that restore electrolytes (such as Gatorade)
- Zip’N Squeeze bags to make it easier to eat pureed meals
- Squeeze bottles to help make drinking easier
- Plastic or paper straws
- A stand-up mirror to make sure you’re getting food through your numb lips when you eat
- A large bib, because eating might be messy at first
- A food strainer for keeping chunks out of your food
- Ice packs and hot/cold packs for your face, such as those made by Cool Jaw
- A whole-face ice pack might feel nice as a treat
- A bed wedge pillow and a neck pillow to make sleeping and resting easier
- Dental wax (if you will be having arch bars or your jaw is wired shut)
- An extra phone charger or two to keep by your bed or on the sofa
- An extra long phone charger cord, in case the outlet is far from the hospital bed
- An extra laptop charger to keep by your bed or on the sofa
- A bed tray or other folding tray
- An eye mask and earplugs for the noisy bright hospital room
Health and Hygiene Items
- A few child-sized toothbrushes (you may not be able to open your mouth very wide)
- A super-soft regular toothbrush for later in your recovery
- Mouthwash (ask your doctor if it should be non-alcohol, such as Biotene)
- Dry mouth gel, such as the one made by Biotene
- A & D ointment or Aquaphor ointment for your lips and face
- Toothettes (oral swabs) to keep your mouth clean if wired shut
- Saline nasal spray and decongestant nasal spray (such as Afrin)
- A few large syringes
- Breathe Right Strips to help keep your nostrils open
- A Waterpik or a faucet-mounted oral irrigator such as those made by Oral Breeze
- If you are not allergic to pineapple, consider taking a supplement containing Bromeline, which may help to reduce post-surgery swelling.
- Some people also like to take homeopathic Arnica Montana and use Arnica cream to help reduce swelling.
- Pre-moistened facial wipes (such as those made with Micellar water), or Micellar water cleanser and cotton pads
- Cotton swabs (Q-Tips)
- A humidifier to help keep your nasal passages moist
- Make sure you have enough paper towels and soft tissues
- If the doctor thinks that you might have some external bleeding, consider getting a few disposable bed pads
- Ask your doctor if you should brush with Sensodyne toothpaste during the first few weeks
- Ask your doctor if using a Neti Pot or a nasal squeeze bottle would be a good idea to help clear nasal congestion post-op. If so, remember to get distilled water for the Neti Pot.
- Pajama tops and shirts that button or zip in the front, because you may not be able to put shirts over your head
- A comfy robe or bed jacket
- Loose-fitting pants and non-binding clothes in general to keep you comfortable
One Week Before Surgery
- Coordinate with the person who will be taking you to and from the hospital.
- Coordinate with the person/people who will be your post-surgery caregiver(s).
- Download some good movies, podcasts, or series (or get some DVDs). You can get a lot of entertainment from the library for free. If you have a library card, check out Hoopla online!
- Set your DVR to record some movies or shows that you like
- Buy some magazines or get some books that you may want to read
- Organize some music you might want to listen to.
- Consider some games to help you pass the time, even a simple online game of Scrabble or anything else that you enjoy.
Your Pre-Op Doctor Appointment
You will probably have a pre-op appointment with your surgeon one week to several days before your surgery. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Should I donate my own blood to have on hand during or after surgery?
- What will be done to manage my post-surgical pain?
- How do you suggest that I maintain proper nutrition?
- What will be done to manage post-surgical nausea, should it occur?
- What should I expect to experience post-surgery?
- How long will I need to be in the hospital?
- What complications might occur?
- Should I expect numbness? How long before the numbness goes away?
- Should I brush with Sensodyne toothpaste during the first few weeks?
- Should I get a Neti Pot or a nasal squeeze bottle to help clear nasal congestion post-op?
A Few Days Before Surgery
A few days before surgery, organize all of your items and medications so that they are easy to find. Prepare the clothes you will wear to the hospital and a bag of items for your stay in the hospital. If necessary, remind your caregiver(s) about your schedule. You might want to contact the hospital to learn their policies for visiting hours and parking.
Prepare a kit to take with you to the hospital, which can include:
- Aquaphor ointment or lip balm
- An eye mask and earplugs
- Your glasses and glasses case(s) if you wear glasses
- Your cell phone, its charger, and long charging cord
- Saline and decongestant nasal sprays
- Slip-on shoes or slippers
- Hair elastics/ hair bands if you have long hair
- A squeeze bottle for water
Before Going To the Hospital
The day before surgery, try to relax. Read the instructions that the doctor gave you for pre-op. You will probably need to stop eating by a certain time in the evening to ensure that you go into surgery on an empty stomach. Prepare your clothes for tomorrow, put together your hospital kit, and make sure that your caregiver knows where everything is in your house.
The day of surgery, be sure to organize and prepare your bed for after you get home, including the wedge pillow, neck pillow, and items that you need near your bed. Set the scene so that you can come home and just get into bed.
Post-surgery pain is the most severe the first few days. If you were given pain medication, take it as directed before the pain gets too intense. It’s always a good idea to “stay ahead of the pain” to remain comfortable and help you rest. After the first few days, the pain should begin to subside.
If you experience jaw muscle spasms, contact your surgeon, and they may prescribe a muscle relaxant. Moist heat and massage can help relax the muscles.
Most of the swelling usually goes away in the first week to 10 days, but the swelling could last longer. For the first 24 to 48 hours, you should apply ice to your face (the Cool Jaw ice gel pack can be very helpful for this). The Cool Jaw gel packs can also be heated to provide moist heat that your doctor may recommend in the subsequent days.
Stay hydrated and try to eat as best you can. If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to finish the amount prescribed, and also take a probiotic (or eat yogurt) to restore your flora. Being on a liquid diet can get boring and challenging after a while, but don’t rush to eat solid foods. Give your jaw and muscles time to heal and follow your doctor’s diet recommendations.
If you are wired shut, be sure to take your wire cutters everywhere you go in case of an emergency.
Others’ Experiences With Jaw Surgery
ArchWired’s Metal Mouth Message Board has a forum just for jaw surgery. Some of the best posts that detail readers’ surgery preparation are: