Simple tasks like biting into a crisp apple or snacking on baby carrots might not be a privilege for most people. But for pre-dental student and UK senior Joy Andrade, complications resulting from reconstructive jaw surgery meant that every decision regarding eating had to be carefully planned and tightly restricted.
In 2013, the summer before her senior year of high school, Andrade underwent surgery to correct a series of skeletal malformations including an underbite, cross bite and open bite. The procedure was intended to be one of the final steps in years of orthodontic treatments, which had included three sets of braces, a palatal expander and multiple extractions. Instead, Andrade faced an entirely new set of obstacles as she was left with a great deal of bone loss and eventually lost six of her upper teeth.
These complications left the sociable student and high school soccer player homebound and feeling isolated for much of her senior year. For months, she visited specialist after specialist and was continuously told that her condition was an unfortunate rare and severe combination.
“At this point I had become cold to dentists,” Andrade explained. “I was really resentful. I was losing teeth; I was losing hair. In thousands of cases, why me?”
Finding the right help at UK
Finally, in late 2013, Andrade found the medical support she needed when she was referred to the UK Dentistry to meet oral surgeon Dr. Joseph Van Sickels. After evaluating Andrade’s case, Van Sickels enlisted the help of Dr. Rodrigo Fuentealba in prosthodontics.
“They’re a great team,” Andrade said. “They were professional and knowledgeable, but warm and comforting. The more you get to know them, the more you realize how great they are.”
Van Sickels and Fuentealba have taken extra care in Andrade’s treatment, working to rebuild a strong foundation of bone and gum tissue to support dental implants. She has undergone several additional surgeries, including a bone graft from her hip, to repair the damage from her initial operation. Throughout this time, she has received two different sets of dental flippers and wore temporary crowns for two years.
“Dr. Fuentealba is an artist. He constructed my teeth while I was sitting right there, while most dentists would have sent that work to a lab. I knew I was in good hands,” Andrade said.
Seeing practical results – and a career
Andrade has a lot more to smile about these days. This summer, she received permanent crowns, which have improved both her outlook and her functionality.
“I can eat corn, apples and other things I used to steer clear of,” she said. “Being able to eat a noodle all by myself – these little victories are when you realize the change.”
Andrade’s journey is far from over, as her condition will require monitoring and progress checks for decades. Looking back, however, Andrade says going through the experience with the help of UK Dentistry has changed her life for the better. Now in her senior year of college at UK, she is preparing to enter dental school upon graduation – hopefully at the UK College of Dentistry.
“It is a big, life-changing event, but it’s given me a different quality of life, and I see myself differently,” she said. “And to anyone going through something similar, it gets better. To have an awesome team that knows what they’re doing and treats you like family – it makes a difference. My life would not be what it is today without them.”