Jaw Journal

For Heather: Surgery and your voice

Recently, Heather asked:

Hi Lindsay, I hope you still check this website. I am a vocal teacher and was a vocal performance major. It’s safe to say music is my life. I teach over 80 students a week, and sing constantly : ) I am having double jaw surgery this July and I am extremely nervous about moving my jaws and still being able to sing. I am hoping that the surgery will take the tension that I feel 24/7 and help me to open my jaws with ease… and also help open up my airways. I am curious what your experience with your voice was after the surgery? Did you find your voice changed? for the worse or better? Any information you want to share would be helpful! Thank you!! Heather

First of all, I’d just like to say that it is nice to know someone other than spambots is finding my blog and commenting. Thanks, Heather! You made my day. 🙂

Now to your question. I chose to dedicate a whole blog post to it because I feel like the answer is a little complicated. I’m trusting that, because you’re a vocalist too, you’ll understand what I mean by the end.

The short answer is yes, surgery did change my voice. Not necessarily the timbre or anything like that, but because surgery drastically altered the physical construction of my instrument, things changed. It’s kind of like replacing the engine in your car. I used to drive an engine with 200k miles on it, and while it got me where I needed to go, it was a bit clunky and not very dependable. I replaced the engine, which fundamentally changed things. Some things are better. I can count on this engine not to crap out on me in the middle of a dessert. But I have to learn how to use it. If I just gun it, it can cause some problems for the rest of my car because the car is the same, it’s just the engine that changed. I have to learn how to use it while keeping the rest of the car in mind.

That may be a bad metaphor. Let’s be honest, I know nothing about cars. But do you get the idea? The voice I had before surgery was the voice I had for 26 years. It was familiar, and I’d learned to use it despite my constant pain. Jaw surgery changed the physicality of my singing, so it changed my voice in a lot of ways, too. Ways that only I notice, maybe. Like resonance. I feel like my resonance has changed. Granted, I haven’t really had a voice lesson in years, but I knew where to aim my sound to get that full-bodied sound before surgery. I had to relearn that post-surgery. It didn’t go away by any means, and now I am able to open my mouth wider and embody that sound more fully when I do find it. It was just a process.

My new voice, like my new face, is something that’s still growing on me. For the most part, I love it. But I have had to face the fact that I’d developed a lot of “bad” habits over the years just to cope with the pain. Now I have to relearn things, and I have to remember to be patient and gentle with my jaw. It’s been 15 months since surgery, but I’m not fully recovered. To my doctors I am, for sure. But I still feel facial fatigue if I eat something extra chewy, or talk a LOT, or sing too much without taking a break.

It sounds like singing is not only your passion, it’s your living. My advice to you, especially since you’re getting double-jaw surgery, is to really take it easy. Seriously. Talk to your doctors about physical therapy options to help you get back in the swing of things, and maybe even consider voice lessons after 6 or 8 months. (I tried taking them again just 3 months after surgery, and it was way too soon.) And I highly recommend doing the exercises your doctors give you after surgery. They kind of suck, but they’ll help build your stamina and strength again. I’ve also found regular massage to be incredibly helpful. Even now, I get massage about twice a month, and my therapist, whom I have been seeing since before surgery, really understands my jaw and face and pain. It’s still painful, actually, to have the area massaged, but I have to remember that surgery REALLY put a lot of stress on my muscles. They’re still trying to sort themselves out.

One thing to consider: numbness. I am still mostly numb in my lower lip, chin and gums. I probably always will be. I’ve gotten used to it, but it does change things. When I’m tired, I slur, and I still have trouble with food and drink sometimes. (Translation: I still drool now and then.) I’ve learned to manage it so it isn’t as bad as it may sound. Also, I have learned to laugh about it. I’m the type who usually points it out to people when I’ve just dribbled a bunch of water down my front because I couldn’t feel the glass. But that’s just me.

Numbness from double jaw surgery may really impact your singing. And if my resonance changed after one-jaw surgery, yours is bound to after double-jaw. It sounds like surgery is something you’ve given a lot of thought to and are committed to. Just keep all of the reasons you have for wanting surgery in mind when you are in the long recovery process. There will be differences. Maybe not big ones for you, and that would be the best case scenario. Just be emotionally prepared to face the possible negative changes, too. It’s a risk, and only you can decide if it’s a risk worth taking.

But for me, it was worth it. Lately, I have really missed singing, and have been practicing a lot more. I hope to do a concert or something some time, or maybe make a recording, just for fun. It’s a huge part of my life and heart, and I understand the fear of risking your voice for the sake of a pain-free life. It’s a tough choice, and I hope you find peace and confidence in whatever choice you make.

Maybe this song will be encouraging to you. The lyrics really apply to the pain and fear and struggle of jaw pain. Consider this my gift to you!

Good luck, Heather! And I really hope you’ll drop me a note after your surgery and let me know how you’re doing. I’ll be thinking of you!



  • Mari

    Hey ladies! another professional singer here contemplating my recommended jaw surgery. A pretty scary idea. Wondering if either of you have updates on your voices and such?

    xxoo thanks so much 🙂

    • Lindsay

      Hi Mari!
      I am the *worst* at checking in on my website lately, and apologize for the appalling delay in my response. But! The good news is, my news is good. 🙂 I am coming up on six years since surgery, and continue to sing and enjoy life. My jaw is not perfect. There are days of pain and times of frustration, but those are minimal. I still maintain that jaw surgery was the best decision I could have made for my personal health and healing. I wish you wisdom and joy in whatever path you choose!

  • Kat

    Hello I’m a nonspambot who found your blog as well when I googled if jaw surgery would impact my singing. Very concerned about this, so thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Lindsay

      Hi Kat, the nonspambot! I’m glad my journey helped you in some small way. I hope you have found the right treatment for your personal needs, and that you’ll enjoy many years of singing ahead!

  • Heather

    Hi Lindsay, just wanted to check in! I am two weeks from surgery! Eek, getting so anxious. I decided to start a blog: http://throughthewire26.blogspot.com to help me get through the bordom of sitting around for a month while recovering. Hope you are doing well! Thanks again for all your input!!

    • Lindsay

      Hi Heather! I’ll be thinking of you over the next few weeks. Have you already scouted out tasty smoothie recipes? I advise you not to go with green smoothies unless you already like those… green just isn’t an appetizing color post-surgery. 🙂 And thanks for the blog link! I’ll definitely keep tabs on your journey. Best of luck!

  • Lindsay

    It was my pleasure! Really, I was glad you asked because I hadn’t really given it very coherent thought before, and needed to write it down. So thank you. I hope you will keep a blog. It was great for me. In fact, I just went back through my posts the other day, and am amazed at how much I’d forgotten. It’s worth it just to keep a journal for yourself! While I was on all of the post-surgery medication, I wrote about experiences that I now have no memory of…so I’m glad I’d captured them somewhere. Also, it’s just a great way to keep people updated. People like me…! Please let me know your URL if you do start one. Best of luck with surgery. It sounds like the right decision, and I applaud your courage. It’s a tough choice, but I hope you’ll experience a pain-free life after and feel it was all worth it. Happy Easter to you, too!

  • Heather Sandberg

    Lindsay! WOW! I feel special that I inspired you to write a whole blog post for me! : ) That was amazing! Thank you for all the info. That definitely gives me an idea at what I am looking at. I am just trying to go into this overly prepared knowing my worst case scenario so I can make plans…My jaw pain is pretty horrible now, I am constantly in pain when singing so if I am in pain or uncomfortable after it will be more or less the same is what I am thinking! lol I have always just dealt with the tension and popping, but it’s been getting worse as I get older so thinking now is the time to do something about it as it turns out there is never a good time for surgery. : ) Thank you for everything your encouragement and all of the advice! I will read this probably a million more times before July! I will def check back in with you after the surgery and give you a heads up. I am thinking about doing a blog at least for my own sanity. It would give me something to do, and track my recovery…I will let you know if I do : ) Hope you have an amazing Easter!