Maxillofacial Surgery: What It Is and Who Does It

What You Need to Know About Maxillofacial Surgical Procedures

Scalpel Image
Surgical Scalpel. Photo: © Getty Images

Definition: Maxillofacial is the area of surgery that deals with problems of the face, head, neck, jaw and sinuses. "Maxillo-" refers to the maxillae, the two maxillary bones that make up the upper palate (roof of the mouth) and the upper jaw.  "Facial" indicates the structures of the face.   

Maxillofacial Surgery

Maxillofacial surgery is the branch of surgery concerned with procedures that treat diseases and trauma to the head, but does not include treatment of the brain.

 These surgeons may perform procedures to help the sinuses work better, to reconstruct broken bones, or to improve the appearance of congenital defects such as a cleft palate.  

There is some overlap between the work of otolaryngologists, also known as ENTs for Ears, Nose, and Throat.  Maxillofacial surgeons are more likely to perform procedures that involve bone, and ENTs are more likely to work on tissue structures, but this differentiation is not absolute. There is also overlap with surgeons specializing in oral surgery, who typically treat issues in the oral cavity (mouth). 

Who Performs Maxillofacial Surgery?

Maxillofacial surgeons are typically trained in oral surgery as well, so some surgeons are referred to as Oral and Maxillofacial specialists. Unique in the world of surgery which typically requires a traditional path of medical school, residency, and fellowship to become a specialist, oral and maxillofacial surgeons may be educated as doctors of dentistry or doctors of medicine, depending on the country of practice.

Most maxillofacial surgeons in the United States are physicians, who follow the traditional path of medical school, residency, and fellowship to perform maxillofacial surgery independently. 

Also Known As: oral surgery, oral surgeon, facial surgery, Oral and maxillofacial, maxillo-facial,

Common Misspellings: maxilofacial, maxilo-facial,

Examples: A maxillofacial surgeon was called to help reconstruct the face of a patient whose facial bones were fractured in a severe car crash.

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