Facial trauma, also called “maxillofacial trauma,” encompasses any injury to the mouth, face and jaw. Facial trauma falls into two categories: soft tissue injuries and hard tissue injuries.
By Laura Childers
Soft Tissue Injuries
We all know about the most common soft tissue injuries—cuts, scrapes and bruises. External bleeding can usually be stopped by applying pressure with gauze or a clean cloth. Ice and elevation can help minimize the discoloration and swelling that comes with bruising.
Yet while most soft tissue injuries usually disappear on their own in a week or two, some require serious medical treatment. For example, a cut lip needing sutures will require an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to bring about the desired cosmetic result.
Hard Tissue Injuries
A more serious facial injury involves a broken bone, or fracture. A hit in the upper face can fracture the delicate bones in the “T” zone—those around the sinuses, eye sockets, and bridge of the nose or cheekbones. A hit in the jaw or lower face often changes the way your teeth fit together.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons treat a facial fracture in a similar fashion to treating a broken arm or leg. The parts of the bone must be lined up and held in position long enough to permit them time to heal.
To restore a normal bite, surgeries often can be performed from inside the mouth to prevent visible scarring of the face, and broken jaws often can be repaired without being wired shut for long periods. When maxillofacial fractures are severe, multiple incisions to expose the bones and a combination of wiring or plating techniques may be needed.
Protection and Prevention
After treatment, the most commonly used protective device for the prevention of further injury is a custom-made plastic face shield. Typically, it is designed to cover the injured area of the face while not touching it.
Because avoiding injury is always best, athletes should always use the protective gear specific to their athletic pursuit, whether that be mouth guards, masks or helmets. New innovations in helmet and mouth and face guard technology have made these devices comfortable to wear and very effective in protecting vulnerable areas. If you play a sport, make the appropriate safety gear part of your standard athletic equipment. If you play football, hockey, lacrosse or are involved in horseback riding or cycling, wear a helmet! The same goes for mouth guards, particularly in football, hockey, wrestling, and boxing.