Maxillofacial Surgery: Purpose, Procedure, Recovery, and Risks (2024)

Maxillofacial surgery describes a broad category of procedures involving the mouth, jaw, or lower face. It can help to treat a range of conditions and is sometimes done to prepare the mouth for dental procedures.

Maxillofacial surgery is a type of facial and jaw surgery that addresses problems occurring in the mouth, jaw, or lower face. The lower part of your face is called the maxillofacial area.

This procedure is done by a specialist called a maxillofacial surgeon. Your dentist or primary care doctor might refer you to a maxillofacial surgeon if they think the pain or other difficulties you’re having could be addressed by maxillofacial surgery.

Maxillofacial surgery can be used to help resolve a range of conditions and issues. This includes:

  • jaw pain
  • limited jaw function
  • tooth impaction
  • oral disease
  • abnormal bites
  • temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • jaw, face, and mouth injuries
  • cleft lips and palates
  • tumors, cysts, and other growths on the head and neck

Maxillofacial surgery can also be used to help prepare for dental procedures. For instance, sometimes surgery is done to prepare your mouth for dental implants or for prosthetics, such as dentures. Sometimes, dental implants can be placed during maxillofacial surgery as well.

The exact procedure for maxillofacial surgery depends on the condition being addressed and on the exact procedure. Sometimes, maxillofacial surgery is quick and can be done in an outpatient setting, where you’ll be able to go home the same day.

Other types of maxillofacial surgery are more complex and might require multiple procedures to complete.

These procedures may require anesthesia. You and your surgeon will talk about anesthesia beforehand, including which options will work best.

Sometimes, you might only need a local anesthetic and a sedative to help you relax during the procedure. Other times, a general anesthetic that causes you to sleep through the procedure might be best. You’ll know ahead of time which type of anesthesia you’ll be having.

You’ll meet with a maxillofacial surgeon for a consultation before you have surgery. They’ll talk with you about your symptoms, current medications, medical history, and more.

You’ll likely have X-rays or other imaging tests done to provide a detailed look at the inside of your jaw and face. This will help your surgeon come up with the most effective surgery plan.

Once they have all the information they need, your surgeon will let you know what kind of maxillofacial surgery they recommend. They can walk you through information such as whether it will be inpatient or outpatient, how many procedures it might take, what steps you’ll need to take to prepare, and more.

Following surgery, you may be moved to a recovery room while the anesthesia wears off. Medical staff will monitor you as you wake up.

It’s normal to experience some pain during this time, especially when the anesthesia wears off. However, your surgeon will typically give you a prescription for pain medication to take during your recovery. Maxillofacial surgery incisions are typically closed with stitches and packed with gauze.

If your procedure was outpatient, you might go home after just a few hours. If you had anesthesia or sedation, someone else must drive you home.

For inpatient procedures, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two.

Whether you’re at home or in the hospital, it’s common to have symptoms in the first days after your surgery, such as:

  • swelling
  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • sensitivity
  • difficulty using your mouth and jaw

These symptoms will last a least a few days, but the exact duration will depend on the procedure you had. You can ask your healthcare team to get a better idea of your recovery timeline.

You’ll have your own post-surgical instructions specific to you and your surgery, but some things are common for nearly all maxillofacial surgery recoveries. For instance, your instructions will likely ask you to:

  • avoid hard, crunchy, or chewy foods
  • rinse your mouth instead of brushing your teeth
  • avoid tobacco
  • avoid alcohol
  • avoid exercise for a least a few days
  • get plenty of rest
  • use ice packs to bring down swelling

Maxillofacial surgery is generally considered safe, and it has many benefits, including pain relief and improved jaw and mouth function. However, like all medical procedures, there’s a risk of complications.

Potential complications include:

  • infection
  • bleeding
  • pain
  • injuries to teeth, tongue, lips, chin, cheeks, nasal cavity, or any surrounding maxillofacial structures
  • persisting numbness in the mouth or other facial areas
  • change in sensation to the mouth and other facial areas
  • dry socket
  • a broken tooth root staying in place postsurgery
  • TMJ disorders

Maxillofacial surgery is a broad term for surgeries that are done on the lower part of the face, jaw, and mouth. This type of surgery can be done for a wide range of conditions and issues that cause pain, difficulties with mouth or jaw function, or unwanted changes to appearance.

Some maxillofacial surgeries are single, outpatient procedures that can be done in one session. Others are complex and require inpatient stays and multiple procedures. A maxillofacial surgeon can tell you the type and complexity of surgery you need after a consultation.

Maxillofacial Surgery: Purpose, Procedure, Recovery, and Risks (2024)
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