Maxillofacial injuries, also referred to as facial trauma, include any injury to the mouth, face and jaw. While there are many ways that the face can be damaged, most often injuries are the result of accidents in the home or workplace, sports mishaps, automobile accidents or interpersonal violence. All facial injuries should be treated promptly as they concern areas critical to breathing, eating, speaking and seeing as well as to appearance.
Health professionals use the following categories to describe facial trauma:
Soft Tissue Injuries – Lacerations to the skin and any kind of intraoral (gum) damage.
Avulsed (knocked out) Teeth – Injuries to the teeth are very common and should be treated immediately for the best chance of successful reimplantation.
Bony Injuries – This category encompasses the entire face including fractured cheekbones, jaw bones, eye sockets, palates and noses.
Special Regions – Injuries to the nerves in the face, the eyes, and the salivary glands.
At the hospital, the individual will most likely be seen by several medical personnel, one of whom will probably be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons complete four or more years of surgical residency training following four years of dental school. Their specialized training makes them an indispensable part of the medical team when treating injuries to the mouth, face and jaws.
Prevention — the best policy
While it isn’t always possible to avoid injury, there are safety practices recommended for reducing the risk of facial trauma. Make sure that you and your family use automobile seat belts. When you participate in sports, use protective mouth guards, helmets and other safety equipment appropriate for your sport. New innovations in helmet, mouth and face guard technology have made these devices much more comfortable and very effective in protecting the vulnerable areas of the face. Don’t take the risk of facial injury lightly; learn and practice the steps needed to reduce risk.
Reasons for facial trauma reconstruction
Aside from the obvious cosmetic reasons for repairing damage to the face, there are a number of serious health and dental concerns that make it important to treat even limited facial injury with expert care. Depending on the type and location of the injury, respiration, speech and swallowing can be impacted and compromised.
Broken facial bones are generally treated in the emergency room, while damage limited to the teeth can sometimes be quickly dealt with by the dentist. Often, patients who sustain facial injury have other medical problems as well. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon will coordinate his care with the rest of your medical team.
Failure to treat dental and facial trauma can lead to the following longer term problems:
- Loss of Functionality: Teeth that are missing, loosened or otherwise damaged by trauma may make eating and speaking difficult.
- Smile Aesthetics: Chipped, broken or missing teeth aren’t attractive. Your oral surgeon and dental team may repair chips, fractures and missing teeth for smile aesthetics and general confidence.
- Bite/Jaw Irregularities: Trauma can lead to alignment problems with the teeth. Poor alignment of the teeth can lead to uneven teeth wear, chronic pain, headaches and other complications.
What does correcting facial trauma involve?
If facial bones have been fractured or broken, the treatment strategy is similar to a broken leg or arm. The broken segments must be realigned and held in place long enough to heal. While a plaster cast cannot be applied to a cheekbone, the bones can be held together with wiring or the insertion of small plates and screws. The healing time will be influenced by the type of break as well as the patient’s overall health and age. Soft tissue lacerations will be evaluated and may be sutured.
In cases where a tooth has been knocked cleanly out of the mouth, it may be possible to reinsert it. The quicker the oral surgeon begins treatment, the greater the chance for the natural tooth to survive. If the tooth is too damaged for reinsertion, the surgeon may implant a prosthetic tooth to restore both functionality and cosmetic appearance. Displaced teeth may be “splinted” using a structural support such as bonding or wiring with a good possibility of success. Root canal therapy is an additional option for loose or broken teeth. Your oral surgeon will provide information and guidance on the best choices for your reconstruction.
Your surgeon at Brockton Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Inc. will provide expert care through all phases of your treatment. Your questions, whether about treatment planning, procedures or post-surgical care and pain management, are welcome.