Four million people in the United States have braces to straighten their teeth, but in some cases braces alone can't correct the alignment of the jaw. For patients who have trouble eating and speaking, surgery is the best option. It's a tricky procedure that involves breaking the jaw. If surgeons are off by just a millimeter, it can damage the alignment of the teeth. Doctors are now entering a virtual world to improve accuracy and outcomes.
"Amanda and I are identical twins and she was born 5 minutes before I was," Rebecca Squires told Ivanhoe.
For 31 years, twins Rebecca Squires and Amanda Bartelme have shared everything … including a painful jaw alignment problem.
"I had pain in my jaw," Squires said. "I had clicking and popping."
"Besides the talking part, eating was definitely frustrating," said Bartelme. "None of my teeth lined up before."
Together, they decided to have surgery, to do what braces couldn't.
"The plan was to move the upper jaw forward and the lower jaw back," Steven Roser, D.M.D., M.D., of the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Ga., told Ivanhoe.
Before the twins even went to the hospital, doctors did the surgery. A new software uses the twins' CT scans to create a three-dimensional virtual planning tool. Now, doctors can test every complex measurement, every precise cut before they go into the operating room.
"It allows us as a team -- the orthodontist or our residents or assistants -- to preplan the operation," Dr. Roser explained. "So when I go in to do the surgery, I've done it on the screen, and I've done it as many times as it takes to get it right."
It took four hours of surgery -- three weeks with their jaws wired shut, but two months later, the twins felt the change.
"I already notice a huge difference in my jaw, and I'm very happy," Squires said.
"It's incredible, instantly," Bartelme said. "All worth it."
Success that feels twice as good.
Since the patients' jaw alignment problems made it difficult to talk and eat, their surgeries were covered by insurance. If it's done for cosmetic reasons only, this procedure is generally not covered.