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What are Craniofacial Implants?

By H. Colledge
Updated May 17, 2024
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Craniofacial implants are pieces of titanium which are surgically attached to the bones of the head and face. A prosthesis, which is a sculpted replacement for a missing part such as an ear, can then be attached to the implant. Magnets, or metal bars and corresponding clips, may be used to achieve the attachment, and the result is more secure than the traditional method of fixing a prosthesis externally using adhesives. The type of surgery, which is used to reconstruct damaged or deformed skin and tissues, is known as plastic surgery.

Some people are born with deformities, known as congenital deformities, of the face and head, and others may acquire them through injuries such as severe burns or diseases such as cancer. As well as leading to functional problems by interfering with processes such as speaking, eating and hearing, having missing features or missing parts of the skull can cause great emotional distress. The use of a prosthesis to restore a normal anatomical appearance is made more precise and stable by anchoring it to bone using craniofacial implants. This can help improve confidence and is more convenient for patients, as there is no need for adhesives to be used on the skin.

The procedure to put craniofacial implants in place involves an initial minor operation to attach titanium fixtures to the bones. Together with connecting pieces called abutments, these will be used to join the implants to the prosthesis. This operation is followed by a waiting period of around three months while healing takes place and bonds form between the bones and the implants. The prosthesis is then constructed, with any necessary clips or magnets required to fix it to the implant. A small amount of space is usually left beneath the prosthesis to allow the skin to breathe and prevent chafing.

Craniofacial implant technology allows people with missing ears to wear secure prostheses fitted with hearing aids. A benefit of having a firmly fixed prosthesis is that it can be used to support a pair of spectacles, which could be useful for those people with missing noses. The extra stability provided by craniofacial implants also has the advantage that prostheses are less likely to work loose and fall off, which means they are likely to last longer. Possible disadvantages of craniofacial implants include the fact that a reasonable amount of bone is required to attach them, so it may not be possible for everyone to have them. Another potential problem is that implants may fail to bond with bone, but this only occurs in a minority of cases.

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