Conventional thinking teaches us that symmetry is beautiful, and perfection is something we should all strive to attain. However, each one of us is perfect in our own way. Although this is now being recognised, for people with a physical impairment or disability – no matter how small – the stigma of being ‘different’ tends to remain.
Anyone with an overbite, underbite, foreshortened, or protruding jaw will tell you their physical imperfection is a problem, not just physiologically, but psychologically too. The impact of having a less-than-perfect jawline is enormous, and it can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s self-confidence.
As the face is the first thing we see, a person who’s self-conscious about their jaw or bite knows that they cannot hide their imperfection. This makes them immediately aware that they look different, and it can add to feelings of discomfort in social situations, or insecurities at work. The feeling that everyone is noticing their flaws can become overwhelming, and fixation will develop that may seem unwarranted, but is very valid. This leads to withdrawal, and in a worst-case scenario, can trigger depression.
Often, people with jaw or dental issues tend not to smile, as they feel this will draw more attention to them. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect. It leads to them being told to lighten up or gives them a reputation for being sullen or moody, simply due to their insecurity.
Speaking can also be hampered by a bad bite, and this can lead to sounding slurred, unable to pronounce certain words, or a speech impediment, like a lisp. Not being able to speak clearly can be detrimental to furthering a career, meeting new people, or public speaking. It may also lead to awkward situations, such as the assumption that someone is drunk, or under the influence of drugs because they’re slurring.
A lack of willingness to smile and the inability to speak with confidence erodes a person’s self-esteem. They tend to become increasingly introverted as they feel unattractive and unworthy. They may start to avoid social situations altogether, refuse to be in photographs, or withdraw entirely in an effort to fade into the background and avoid the public eye.
While this is not an emotionally healthy approach to life, it’s an understandable one. The pressures and conforms of society are incredibly strong. The desire to fit in, be accepted, and seen as attractive is powerful and can become all-consuming.
For adults, dealing with a misaligned jaw or bite issue is incredibly tough, but it’s even harder on children who are suffering from the same affliction. Younger children may be more accepting of differences as they have yet to be fully influenced by societal bias, but pre-teens and teens are a different story.
Teens are incredibly self-conscious generally. Their bodies are changing, and their hormones are going crazy. If you add an ‘abnormality’ to the list, anxiety levels can skyrocket, and teen angst can become a real problem.
Then there’s the issue of bullies.
Teens are not always the kindest, and if someone looks different, or doesn’t quite fit the norm, they’re an easy target. This can further damage their self-esteem, and lead to a lack of confidence. In time, they may develop depression, an eating disorder, or similar mental health issue in an effort to cope or have a semblance of control over their lives.
It’s easy to see that a bite issue is so much more than a medical problem and that the psychological side effects can be enormous. Not being able to chew properly, pain, discomfort or an inability to articulate are all extremely serious issues on their own, and in some cases, people experience them all together.
However, there’s good news for anyone with a bad bite or misaligned jaw. They don’t have to live with it, and it can be corrected. Surgery may be required to realign a bite, or a less invasive technique may be used to reposition the jaw. This corrective treatment can literally be lifesaving, not just from a medical perspective, but from a mental one too. Jaw pain can lead to depression due to its symptoms. When you add the psychological impact of feeling unattractive or abnormal, it becomes even more of a weighty, twofold mental health issue.
Patients who have had corrective bite surgery or jawline treatments have reported the change in the way they feel, and how, after the procedure, they’ve regained their confidence. Feeling ‘normal’ can play a huge role in bolstering self-esteem, as can be able to smile confidently, and speak clearly.
It’s important to realize that although correcting a bite will change the face, sometimes the psychological damage runs far deeper, and more than a medical procedure is needed to address the issue. For people who’ve developed crippling anxiety, low self-esteem issues, or have lost their confidence, counselling may be a necessary step.
Sessions with a psychologist will help them to unpack the issue, and realize that they’re so much more than just their outward appearance. They will also reaffirm that their concerns and feelings were valid, and teach them the coping mechanisms they need to move forward. A healthy bite and a healthy mindset will go hand in hand to restoring their mental health.
The procedure to correct a bite takes time, and in some cases may require braces, invisalign, teeth extractions or similar dental or orthodontic assistance. If an operation is needed, long recovery times may be part of the process, and a patient’s face will undergo many changes before they finally heal. This may affect their confidence levels on a more temporary basis. However, they’ll know they’re on the right path, and a change is imminent.
Once corrected, the end result may take some getting used to, as eating and speaking could be very different to how it was before. But, when fully healed and functional, a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence should grow, and their anxiety over not fitting in or being deemed unattractive will subside.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in mental health and well-being.
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