If you break a bone in your face or jaw, you may suffer serious problems that can affect your eating, speaking and even the ability to smile. You may require surgery to repair your face so you can enjoy normal activities again. Sometimes full mouth reconstruction is necessary. Repairing facial trauma usually requires a maxillofacial surgeon — a doctor who specializes in oral surgery.
If you think you may have facial fractures, or suffer serious injury to your jaw, teeth, or face, you need to contact a doctor or dentist right away. He or she can recommend a facial trauma surgeon who can help get you patched up so you can heal.
What Are Common Causes of Facial Injuries?
Facial injuries happen due to a sudden impact in the facial area. Indeed, the bones of the face are some of the most commonly fractured in the entire body.
The major bones in the face are the forehead (your frontal bone), cheekbones (known as zygomas), the eye sockets, or orbital bones, the two jawbones. Your two jawbones consist of the upper jaw (maxillary) and lower jaw (mandible). Because of the way they jet out from your face, jawbones are especially susceptible to facial injury, especially in face forward falls.
Here are the most common causes of facial injury:
- Sports injuries (especially high impact sports like football, boxing, baseball, and basketball)
- Vehicle accidents
- Work injuries
- Bone loss
- Certain oral pathology (i.e. cancer and periodontal disease)
- Physical assault
Why You Shouldn’t Let Facial Injuries Heal on Their Own
The truth is you run a great deal of risk if you let facial trauma injuries heal on their own without medical attention — not to mention you’ll be in a great deal of pain. The truth is without help from a facial injury surgeon, the injury can lead to permanent damage to your face and jaw structure. It can even put your life at risk.
It’s important to understand how delicate a structure the facial skeleton is. Furthermore, it contains many of the nerves responsible for smell, sight, and touch. If not properly repaired, these injured bones could impede your nerve endings, resulting in a severe loss of sensation. Fractures to the jawbone can even cause breathing difficulties, affect your ability to chew, and limit your speaking capabilities.
Due to the proximity of the face to the central nervous system, facial injuries can even damage or affect the spinal cord, leading to paralysis in extreme cases.
What to Expect from Facial Trauma Surgery
Facial trauma surgery is done to repair an injury to the face or jaw. We may need to stop bleeding, repair damaged tissue, or fix broken bones.
Very often, your face will be sore for a week or two. Eating may be difficult for a while.
You may require stitches to your face, jaw, or mouth. We’ll remove them about a week after surgery.
The healing process may take several months. You may not look the same after a severe facial trauma injury. It may require ongoing work with a surgeon who specializes in facial trauma to return your face as close as possible to its original appearance.
When Can You Return to Work?
How long before you can return to work will depend on the nature and severity of the facial injury, as well as the type of work you do. For many facial injuries, you should expect to need to rest from work for at least a week or two.
How to Care for a Facial Injury at Home
When recovering from facial trauma, easy does it! Rest whenever you feel tired. Getting adequate sleep will greatly improve your recovery. We suggest sleeping with your head up using 2 to 3 pillows. Sleeping with your head up in a reclining chair can also be helpful.
Avoid any activities that may reinjure your face and jaw until your doctor says it’s okay. Talk to your doctor about when it is safe for you to drive again, what approach you should take with speaking and eating. Every patient’s case is different and requires a doctor-customized approach to care.
Follow your doctor’s instructions for brushing your teeth and other oral care. You may require a special diet of soft foods or soup for a time. You may have to drink your meals through a straw.
We recommend drinking plenty of fluids. Keep a water bottle or glass of water on hand, using a straw if necessary. You need to avoid dehydration to encourage recovery.
Talk to your doctor about any medications you take. These may need to be adjusted while healing from facial trauma. If you take any medication that includes aspirin or a blood thinner, talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe.
You’ll likely be given pain medications by your doctor to help in the facial trauma recovery process. It’s important to use only as directed. These medications can run a high risk of addiction and can lead to overdose.
If you are prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed — and continue to take them until they are completely gone. Infections can sometimes linger, even if you are feeling fine, and can relapse if antibiotics are not fully used.
If you have incisions, cuts, or scrapes on your face, wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Your doctor may give you other instructions on caring for your wounds. Follow these instructions carefully.
If you need ice to relieve swelling or pain, place ice or a cold pack on your face or jaw for 10 to 20 minutes at a time — 2 to 3 times per day. Wrap the ice in a soft towel.
If your jaw is wired shut, keep wire cutters on hand in case you throw up. Your doctor can instruct you on how to use them.
Follow Up with Your Facial Trauma Surgeon
It is important that you follow up with your facial trauma surgeon throughout the recovery process. Be sure to go to all your appointments. If you are having any problems, call our office. Keep track of your test results. Make a list of all medications you are taking and keep this on hand.