Cindy Myers found Dr. Leslie Sultan on the internet. The Atlanta teenager had a condition called Idiopathic Condylar Resorption in which over time the jaw joints dissolve, leaving the person with a bird beak appearance. It’s a condition, Myers discovered, that not many doctors treat. As the condition worsened through middle and then high school, she spent hours on the internet researching her options.
“It took away my teenage years,” she says. “You see all your friends just growing into these beautiful people and your face is just becoming worse all the time.”
Then she found a doctor in South Florida who said yes, he felt confident he could be able to help. She told her mother, and they booked a flight down.
The man they met has been working in South Florida for more than three decades.
“I’ve been in Broward County since 1990,” Sultan says. “I was originally an organic chemist before I became a surgeon. I enjoy the challenge of what I do; that keeps me going.”
His practice, he says, is unique.
“Oral and Maxillofacial surgery involves treating the mouth and the jaws,” he says. “My practice is very boutique-y. I mainly specialize in doing jawbone surgery, particularly jaw joint surgery and replacement.”
That said, “boutique-y” doesn’t mean unnecessary or entirely cosmetic. Jaw surgery such as repositioning or correcting defects of the jaws that come from birth defects, traumatic injuries, tumors etc. “I tend to get these very complex cases, mostly patients with uneven faces.”
Modern state-of-the-art jaw reconstruction involves three-dimensional treatment, patient specific guides to help cut and reposition the bones and custom plates and joints to keep the bones in place. Sultan trained in the ’80s, when everything was analog; the things they can do today are remarkable, he says. Take Cindy Myers. He operated on her last spring; that’s been followed up by months of physical therapy.
“She has an incredible result,” Sultan says. “She’s now out of braces, she’s in her senior year of high school. She has a social life now, she has no pain, she’s on her regular diet.”
Myers was diagnosed with her condition at 13. An orthodontist told her she’d need jaw surgery, but beyond that, information was vague and hard to come by.
“We didn’t know what kind of jaw surgery I needed,” she says.
As the condition worsened, it affected her health and basic daily functions.
“It was affecting my airways, my ability to eat and breathe properly,“ she says. Then there was the psychological toll.
“It took almost all the confidence out of me. I definitely began to notice it when boys would bully me for it. I got told not to smile or, like, ‘Where did your chin go?’”
A surgeon in Atlanta did a year of tests and MRIs before coming back and saying she couldn’t do a surgery. Other doctors offered temporary solutions. This teenage patient wasn’t buying it.
“My condition would have just relapsed and I would have had the same problem I began with.”
On a Facebook group for people with the condition, her mom found a woman who spoke about Sultan. Soon after, mother and daughter were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale.
At the first meeting, the teenager was blunt. She told him what she had, that it was affecting her life and she wanted it fixed. She didn’t want to worry about it again in five years. She was recommended and ultimately decided to have both jaw joints replaced (her upper jaw and chin brought forward almost one inch). For the first time, she found somebody willing to do that.
“I realized that he was genuinely passionate about wanting me to be my best self – not only fixing my medical issues, but giving me my life back,” she says. “I told my mom, this is the man I trust to do my surgery.”
Kristen Colburn’s problems started in 2015; by 2018, the range of motion in her jaw was severely diminished and she easily became lightheaded because of swelling. By the time she met Dr. Sultan, she was having to eat meals mashed up like baby food.
“I was living off of Advil,” she says. “I would cry so often; it was no life to live where you have to eat baby food and you’re in excruciating pain all the time.” Kristen had both jaw joints replaced with custom implants.
She’s kept a journal for years, and now she finds it remarkable, and sad, to read back over those times. There would be a prompt like “What is the biggest change you’d like to have in your life?” And again and again, she’d write something like “I just want a life where I don’t have to deal with this dizziness and pain anymore.”
Logistics complicated the surgery; she was living in Boca Raton when she had the surgery, but then moved shortly afterward when her husband was offered a job in Pennsylvania. But even with the over-the-internet follow-ups, the treatment was worth it.
“It’s like I have an entirely new life that I never thought I’d have,” she says. “I thought I was a lost cause.”
Cindy Myers is in the process of organizing a convention – partnering with people she’s found on TikTok, women with similar stories. She wants to let other people, especially young women and girls, know that this isn’t uncommon. She’s also getting ready to go to college, and considered doing what Dr. Sultan does. She wants to help other girls get their confidence back.
“Being a doctor is a lot of commitment, it’s a lot of school,” she admits. But she’s considering it. “I think the work that Dr. Sultan does is so important.”
She still has that fear of the camera and says she’s “having to retrain my smile.” She does physical therapy and other exercises to get her lips moving like they’re supposed to. “It’s definitely a new thing for me, to retrain myself.”
Not long ago Cindy had one of those rites-of-passage events – getting her senior-year pictures taken. She really liked how they turned out, even if she’s still figuring out this whole getting-your-picture-taken thing. She once banished mirrors; now she loves looking.
“I don’t know how to do anything; I look like a deer in headlights. But I’m working on it. I work on smiling in the mirror every day.”
More Patient Stories:
Patient: Renee James
“My experience with Dr. Sultan was absolutely life-changing. And I do not say that over-dramatically. Literally, before I got my surgery with Dr. Sultan, I was waking up in the middle of the night coughing because the airway in my throat was partially blocked. This was due to two things: I have severe rheumatoid arthritis, and in 2017, I had to get my C1 to see two discs fused because of instability. That fusion closed some of my throat. Additionally, over the years my TMJ joints were completely dissolving and fusing to the point where I had an open bite, and severe jaw pain.
To say that it was embarrassing would be an understatement. I could no longer smile normally in photos… So honestly I avoided them. And when I did take photos my smile was not my smile. It was a fake smile, closed mouth often, so no one saw the open bite.
From a physical standpoint, I could not eat normal foods. I could not chew at all. The only teeth that touched were my back molars and they were getting worn down over the past two years substantially from not being able to chew normally.
I was so worried about the surgery. I didn’t know if my bones were strong enough, if my jaw was strong enough, because I had been on prednisone for so many years and had already had osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Before my TMJ total jar replacement surgery with Dr. Sultan, I have had seven joint replacement surgeries. Two complete knee surgeries, a hip surgery, a hip dislocation surgery, a broken femur surgery, a wrist fusion and as I already said a neck fusion.
But for some reason this one was the most intense and scary for me. Dr. Sultan was an absolute angel. He told me he actually had to operate the entire time with me standing up and in some cases working upside down due to the fact that my neck would not move from the fusion.
I am six months out from surgery, and I’m eating whatever I want. I have my beautiful smile back, my profile back, but most importantly my life back!
Best thing of all? My confidence has come back and I am able to eat bagels again!
I would recommend Dr. Sultan to anyone who had RA and TMJ issues. As I said… He and the surgery… Were life-saving for me! Truly, truly a miracle.”
Patient: Branden Bedoya
FLMag: Please describe your experience with Dr. Sultan.
Bedoya: Sultan is solid. He knows what he’s talking about and is a master of his craft
FLMag: How did Dr. Sultan change your life?
Bedoya: The surgery changed my life in a couple of ways:
– I now have a perfect bite
– I don’t mouth breath when I sleep
– All my teeth touch when I bite into food
– My facial profile completely changed
– No more random headaches every week