Maxillofacial Surgery is the surgical specialty dealing with the jaw and face. All problems and conditions of the face, external parts of the head, and the hard and soft structures of the mouth and jaw which require surgery will be seen by a maxillofacial specialist. Patients are usually referred to maxillofacial surgeons by their dentists, orthodontists, or sometimes doctors in medical specialties relating to the mouth, jaw, and face.
Maxillofacial specialists assess, diagnose, and treat conditions of the jaw and face, and work together with a large multidisciplinary team, including specialist anaesthetists who have the delicate and demanding task of looking after the breathing of the unconscious patient who may be having complex surgery around their mouth and nose. Surgeons work with a team of theatre staff, specialist nurses, dental and orthodontic specialists, and sometimes plastic surgeons and ear nose and throat (ENT) specialists. Surgery to the face is by nature a sensitive area as it is the most visible part of a person, and people can worry about their appearance following surgery. Maxillofacial surgeons and other surgeons who work with the face are very mindful of this, and can often vastly improve the appearance of misaligned jaws and correctable facial malformations.
Following oral and maxillofacial surgery for jaw and dental problems, people generally need to go on to have further dental or orthodontic treatment and monitoring for a while. Patients who have had major facial or jaw surgery may also need a referral to a speech and language therapy (SALT) team who can help people whose maxillofacial conditions have caused functional problems with their mouth, such as their speech or ability to chew food.
A maxillofacial surgeon assesses patients for their suitability for surgery and to determine exactly what kind of surgery they need. Some of the more common oral and maxillofacial surgical procedures are for dental problems that a dentist or orthodontist feels may need surgical intervention, such as complex impacted wisdom teeth, or orthognathic surgery.
Orthognathic surgery is undertaken to correct skeletal conditions causing misalignment of the jaw. This can cause problems with eating, speech, and the appearance of the face, but is usually fully reparable by specialist jaw surgery.
Oral maxillofacial surgery often goes hand in hand with corrective dental treatments like braces to help with alignment of the teeth and jaw, and after jaw surgery, people often go on to have braces for a time.
Maxillofacial surgeons also work closely with plastic surgeons and ENT specialists to perform major facial surgery, such as correction of congenital malformation, or following injuries or removal of tumours.
While some of the work maxillofacial surgeons do is to correct or improve problems of varying severity, they may also perform surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, such as for jaw misalignments that don’t affect the use of the mouth for talking and eating, but which the patient feels are unsightly. As with any specialty, the maxillofacial team will keep your general family doctor updated with any medical or surgical interventions you’ve had.