Maxillofacial Surgery

Maxillofacial surgery is an operation performed by a highly trained dental surgeon. A variety of maxillofacial procedures can treat diseases, fix injuries or correct defects in your face, jaw or mouth. As with any operation, maxillofacial surgery has certain risks. But the procedures help many reduce pain, fix deformities and restore function.


What is maxillofacial surgery?

Maxillofacial surgery is a special type of dentistry. It involves operations to correct diseases, injuries and defects of your face, jaw or mouth. Maxillofacial surgeons are advanced specialists who diagnose and treat problems with:

  • Bones and tissues of your jaw and lower face (maxillofacial area).
  • Roof of your mouth (palate).
  • Teeth.


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Why is maxillofacial surgery done?

Maxillofacial surgery is performed to:

  • Improve jaw function.
  • Relieve pain.

Maxillofacial surgery can address a wide variety of dental problems and conditions, such as:

  • Diagnosing reasons for chronic dental pain.
  • Preparing the mouth for dental implants and prostheses (such as dentures).
  • Placing dental implants.
  • Removing (extracting) impacted teeth.
  • Treat oral diseases.

Procedures can also treat jaw problems, such as:

  • Bone grafting, or transplanting bone from another area of the body to replace bone that’s missing in your jaw.
  • Reconstructing your jaw to correct an abnormal bite.
  • Treating temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders that affect the area where your lower jaw attaches to your skull.
  • Treating injuries related to trauma to your face, jaw and mouth.

Other reasons to perform maxillofacial surgery include:

  • Correcting congenital (present at birth) abnormalities such as cleft lip and palate.
  • Diagnosing and treating cysts, tumors, cancer and other growths in your head and neck.
  • Diagnosing reasons for chronic facial pain.
  • Treating facial trauma (injury), such as facial fractures or damaged maxillofacial tissue.

What’s the difference between oral surgery and maxillofacial surgery?

Maxillofacial surgeons are oral surgeons are the same thing. Training involves oral and maxillofacial surgery but some surgeons limit their practice to oral surgery and office-based procedures while others prefer more hospital-based procedures.


Procedure Details

What happens before maxillofacial surgery?

If you need maxillofacial surgery, your healthcare provider (primary care provider or dentist) will refer you to a specialist.

The maxillofacial surgeon will meet with you for a consultation to:

  • Ask about your symptoms, medical history, current medications and more.
  • Examine your oral cavity and surrounding areas.
  • Order tests as needed, such as dental X-rays or 3D scans to get detailed images of the maxillofacial structures.
  • Diagnose the condition and recommend surgery or other treatment.

What happens during maxillofacial surgery?

Maxillofacial surgery varies greatly depending on the problem and procedure. Some surgeries can be done in an outpatient setting, and you can go home the same day. Other treatment plans involve multiple surgeries to achieve the desired results.

Maxillofacial surgeons are trained and authorized to deliver anesthesia to prevent pain or put you to sleep. Your healthcare team will talk to you about whether you'll need anesthesia and what type is best for you.

Toward the end of the procedure, your surgeon may use stitches to close any surgical wounds. Your surgeon also may place packing in your mouth to protect your teeth or the wound and to absorb fluids such as blood and pus.


What happens after maxillofacial surgery?

After maxillofacial surgery, your healthcare team will move you to a recovery room so you can wake up from the anesthesia. You may have some discomfort or pain as the medication wears off.

You’ll also probably experience:

  • Bleeding.
  • Bruising.
  • Limited use of the jaw and teeth.
  • Swelling.

Your surgical team will talk to you about how the surgery went, when you can go home and how to take care of yourself during recovery.

If you receive anesthesia, you should have someone drive you home.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of maxillofacial surgery?

Maxillofacial surgery can permanently improve pain, function and appearance.

What are the risks or complications of maxillofacial surgery?

As with any operation, there are risks with maxillofacial surgery, such as:

  • Bleeding.
  • Dry socket, a painful condition that can occur after tooth extraction involving problems with blood clots.
  • Infection.
  • Injury to teeth, lips, tongue, cheeks, chin, nasal cavity, sinuses, or maxillofacial bones or tissue.
  • Numbness or changes in sensation in the mouth or other areas of your face.
  • Pain.
  • Possible damage to nerves that move some of the muscles of your face.
  • Root fragments, a rare complication when a piece of tooth root breaks off and stays in place after surgery.
  • TMJ disorders.

Recovery and Outlook

What’s recovery like after maxillofacial surgery?

Recovery after maxillofacial surgery depends on the type of procedure you have. You’ll likely experience some discomfort, sensitivity, swelling and bleeding for at least a few days. Your healthcare provider may recommend pain medications to keep you comfortable.

If you received stitches, they’ll either dissolve or be removed in about a week.

You may have to avoid certain foods and activities for days or weeks. Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions, which may include:

  • Apply ice packs to reduce inflammation.
  • Avoid foods that are crunchy, chewy or hard.
  • Avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
  • Don’t exercise for a few days because it can increase bleeding and swelling.
  • Rest to prevent complications.
  • Rinse your teeth instead of brushing them to kill bacteria in the mouth.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

After maxillofacial surgery, seek medical attention if you experience any signs of infection or other complications:

  • Fever or chills.
  • Abnormal swelling or pain that doesn’t get better gradually.
  • Salty, metallic or bad taste in the mouth that doesn’t go away.
  • Excessive pus or blood.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Maxillofacial surgery involves an operation to correct a disease, injury or defect of your face, jaw or mouth. Maxillofacial surgeons are dental specialists who have advanced training. They perform various procedures to reduce pain, fix deformities and restore function in the lower face.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/18/2021.

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