Possibility of Straighter Teeth Brings Risks of Surgery

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by Brianna Albers |

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You know how sometimes a comment can stick with you? That’s been my life this past week.

It was something my dad said a while back. I don’t even remember the context, though I’m pretty sure it was random, out of the blue. “You know,” he blurted, “you should really think about having jaw surgery and getting your teeth straightened. You’d be able to eat so much more stuff. It would definitely make things less of a hassle.”

Several years ago, my parents and I looked into braces. The very idea presents a problem: I sleep with a BiPap every night, and the mask I wear wouldn’t gel with metal contraptions literally fused to my teeth. We thought it was worth a consultation, but weren’t surprised when the doctor came back with, “Probably not.” What did surprise us was the doctor’s hypothesis: My teeth are actually straight; it’s my jaw that’s crooked, from years of sleeping with a BiPap mask.

The solution, he said, would be simple: jaw surgery. But surgery is never simple for SMA patients, even if it’s relatively low-risk. Anesthesia isn’t something to approach lightly. There’s always a chance that, thanks to my neurons, my body might just never wake itself up. Even my bronchoscopy early last year was accompanied by a ridiculously long, albeit mental, pros and cons list.

There’s also my emotional, knee-jerk reaction to just the concept of going under anesthesia. For the longest time, I thought I was being childish, but now I know it’s evidence of trauma. At a young age, I underwent a life-threatening surgery and had two metal rods fused to my spinal cord to keep my scoliosis from worsening. I could’ve died, and I’ve carried that knowledge for years. When I was younger, I would burst into tears at the mere mention of surgery. I’ve gotten better, which is to say I don’t immediately have an anxiety attack. But I still find myself reacting from a place of trauma.

I have no desire to go under anesthesia. I’ve spent my entire life avoiding the inevitability of it, that one day I would have no choice. My bronchoscopy went smoothly, and there are anesthesiologists in the Twin Cities who specialize in SMA. Yet I still can’t bring myself to fully embrace the idea, not when a straighter jaw is something I can live without — and, in fact, have for years now.

My dad is right: It would make it easier for me to eat. It would also improve my sense of self, I think, in the long run. My teeth have always been crooked. I accepted long ago that, barring some braces-related miracle, they would always be crooked. I’ve come to love them as one loves any other imperfect part of themselves, which is to say, with hesitation. But the thought of having a “normal” smile — whatever that means — is, I’ll admit, pretty tempting.

I once told a friend how unthinkable it was to risk my life for something as superficial as a smile, something that is innately warped by society’s beauty standards. Years later, I’m of the same opinion. But that doesn’t make the temptation any easier to ignore. Maybe one day I’ll be secure enough to dismiss the thought altogether. But as of now, I guess it’s something I’ll continue to grapple with, as I do with so many other things.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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