What is Facial Reconstructive Surgery?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 January 2020
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Facial reconstructive surgery is a form of plastic surgery which is designed to create or restore functionality in the face. Although it is classified as plastic surgery, it is not cosmetic surgery. The goal is not to enhance the appearance of the face, but to help a patient with an issue such as an airway abnormality which restricts breathing, a cleft lift and palate, or damage to the face caused by severe burn injuries. Specialists in facial reconstructive surgery focus on treating patients who experience pain, discomfort, or awkward social situations due to congenital or acquired facial abnormalities.

Surgeons who perform craniofacial surgery of this type can come from a background in oral and maxillofacial surgery, plastic surgery, or ear, nose, and throat surgery. They receive surgical training in their area of specialty and go on to pursue fellowships in reconstructive surgery. These specialists can work with a wide variety of patients, with some surgeons choosing to specialize in a particular area of interest such as airway surgery for treatment of sleep apnea or surgery on children with craniofacial birth defects.


Congenital and developmental facial anomalies can be treated with facial reconstructive surgery. Some examples include deformations in skull shape, port wine stains on the face, clef lip and palate, and anomalies in jaw structure. In this case, the surgeon may work with the patient at a young age, performing surgery to address the anomaly so that the patient does not have to endure bullying from classmates as a result of an unusual facial appearance.

Acquired damage to the face and skull can also be managed with facial reconstructive surgery. People who have experienced facial injuries as a result of burns, car accidents, radiation therapy for cancer, broken bones, and so forth can have these injuries addressed by a craniofacial surgeon who will repair and reconstruct. The goal is to restore a relatively normal appearance and function, and facial reconstructive surgery can include steps like skin grafts and grafts of tissue which will restore movement and expression in the face.

Unfortunately, because facial reconstructive surgery is a type of plastic surgery, some insurance programs and health benefits programs will not cover it, under the argument that it is not medically necessary. In cases where patients can prove that facial reconstructive surgery has specific medical value, as when a patient with apnea has airway surgery to breathe better, they may be able to appeal a denial of benefits and get the procedure covered.



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