'People would say ‘did you eat your elbow?'... they'd call me ‘jaw breaker’ or ‘double jaw’' - Two pals undergo the same transformative surgery
“I can breathe better, I can chew better. It’s quality of life… everything.”
Megan Donnelly (20) and her close friend Gemma Donnelly (21) both had an underbite in their teenage years, meaning that their lower teeth and jaws protruded in front of their upper teeth. They couldn’t fully close their mouths, couldn’t properly bite into a slice of toast or chew their foods.
In Gemma’s case, her under bite meant that she was taunted by bullies.
“I was walking on the streets and people would say ‘did you eat your elbow because my jaw was sticking out?’ People would call me ‘jaw breaker’ or ‘double jaw’.”
“It was mostly lads shouting across the road."
“I couldn’t smile because I couldn’t close my teeth properly; I couldn’t eat burgers; I couldn’t chew. I just wanted one day to be able to close my mouth.”
“I used to be afraid to go out, I was afraid to walk out on the streets, I was afraid to eat in front of people... I couldn’t smile properly, I couldn’t eat properly.”
Gemma, a full-time waitress, was told when she was ten years old that she was a candidate for a jaw surgery that would fix her under bite. The surgery is performed once a candidate turns 18, allowing for the jaw bones to fully form.
During the four-hour surgery, a surgeon cuts and breaks the jaw with a small saw. It is then moved into its new position and held in place with small metal plates and screws. The gum is stitched back into place with dissolvable stitches which eventually fall out.
When candidates wake from the surgery, their jaw is wired shut, and remains this way for at least six weeks.
Patients are confined to a diet of milkshakes, soups, and other liquid foods while the jaw heals.
Megan, who is also a distant cousin of Gemma's, had her surgery in February.
She told Independent.ie: “I got my braces when I was 14 and it all started from there. My orthodontist noticed the under bite that I had, and she said you’ll need surgery.”
“I was terrified. The thoughts of it would turn anyone off,” the trainee accountant said.
“I had an encounter on the street with a guy, I must have been looking down and laughing, and he said something like ‘what’s wrong with her jaw’, and I said ‘is he talking to me?’”
“I forgot about [the surgery] for a while. I had the braces on, and tried to put it to the back of my mind. I wouldn’t google anything about it, and tried to block it out as best I could.”
“When Gemma had hers is when I really started to think about it again. It was Gemma who encouraged me to have mine. I saw her entire transformation and thought it was great, and it could be fine for me to go ahead.”
Megan, who describes herself as shy before the operation, now enjoys socialising much more.
“The recovery was very tough,” recalls Megan. “I couldn’t eat for about a month, I had soup, yoghurt, all that through a lovely syringe, that was great fun.”
But she added: “I find I’m more up for going out with my friends. Before, I’d be like ‘you go ahead, I’ll stay at home’.”
“My aim is to encourage other young people if they do find themselves in me and Gemma’s situation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It might seem scary, but it really can change your life.”
Gemma runs an Instagram account @jawsurgerygem, while Megan runs @jawsurgerymeg, where they share photos of themselves both pre- and post-surgeries.
Gemma recalls: “I got loads of followers. I followed people who had the jaw surgery because I wanted to find out things like what can you eat, and all the different things, and they all replied and gave me help. And I started posting pictures of my journey myself.”
“I got a big response from people all over Ireland, all over the world. I even had parents texting me, saying ‘my daughter has to get it done’.”
“Since I got it done, I was able to walk into a job, I got a boyfriend. It was great. I’m a really chatty and friendly person so I’m more self-confident now in talking to people.”