A Guide to Recovering from Major Facial Trauma

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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. In fact, facial trauma to the bones of the face is surprisingly common.

The primary bones in the face are the forehead (your frontal bone), orbital bones, cheekbones, eye sockets, and the jaw. Your two jawbones consist of the upper jaw (maxillary) and lower jaw (mandible). Because of their position on your face, jawbones are especially susceptible to facial injury, especially for people who fall on their face or crash headfirst into something.

Here are the most common causes of facial injury:

  • Sporting injuries
  • Car crash
  • Work injuries
  • Physical assault or abuse
  • Periodontal disease
  • Cancer

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. Your life may even be at risk.

It’s important to understand the delicate nature of the face and facial bones. Furthermore, it contains many sensory nerves. If not properly repaired, these injured bones could impede your nerve endings, resulting in a severe loss of sensation. Fractures to the jawbone can make it difficult to breathe, affect your ability to chew, and limit your speaking capabilities.

Because of the face’s relationship to the central nervous system, damage to the face often affects 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’ll need to stop the bleeding, repair facial tissue and perhaps set any bones that have broken.

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. These stitches will be removed in about a week.

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. Make sure to get adequate sleep to improve recovery. We suggest sleeping with your head up using 2 to 3 pillows. Sleeping with your head up, either raised on pillows or perhaps on a reclining chair, can also be helpful.

Avoid any activities that may reinjure your face and jaw until we tell you 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. For a time, you may need to use a straw to drink soups and other liquids.

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.

Take any prescribed antibiotics 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.

Wash any cut or injured facial areas with warm soapy water. Gently pat the area dry. We may provide more specific instructions on caring for your wounds. Follow these instructions carefully.

If you need ice to relieve swelling or pain, place an ice pack or package of frozen veggies on your face or jaw for 10 to 20 minutes 2 to 3 times per day. Wrap the ice in a soft towel.

If your jaw is wired shut, you’ll need to keep wire cutters handy in case you vomit. We’ll give you detailed instructions on care.

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. Call our office if you have any questions or issues. Keep track of your test results. Make a list of all medications you are taking and keep this on hand.