Our colleague, Chris Curtis, from the Swallows Head and Neck Cancer Support Group is currently mid-way through a trip...
Maxillofacial prosthetics is a subspecialty of Prosthodontics (Prosthetic Dentistry). As a critical member of any large medical centre team, the maxillofacial prosthodontist is involved not only in diagnostic examination, restoration and maintenance of oral function, comfort, aesthetics, and health of patients who are undergoing chemo-and radiation therapies, but also is involved in the rehabilitation of acquired and developmental defects through prosthetic repair.
While maxillofacial prosthetic treatment is not a substitute for plastic and reconstructive surgery, in certain circumstances it may be an alternative. Certain patients may simply not be good candidates for plastic surgery because of their advanced age, poor health, very large deformity, or poor blood supply to irradiated tissue. Moreover, maxillofacial prosthetic treatment is indicated when anatomical parts of the head and neck are not replaceable by living tissue, when recurrence of malignancy is likely, when radiotherapy is being administered, or when fragments of facial bones are severely displaced in a fracture. A temporary prosthesis may cover a defect when plastic surgery repair requires many steps, and speech appliances may be used when surgery is considered nonadvantageous for the closure of a cleft palate. Surgically reconstructed sites also require maxillofacial prosthetic treatment with or without implants.
Maxillofacial prosthetic rehabilitation has three main advantages: it requires little or no additional surgery, it can decrease hospital stay, and often the results are more aesthetically pleasing and less invasive than plastic surgery. As maxillofacial prosthetic training and materials continue to improve, and as implants become more and more important to facial rehabilitation, the maxillofacial prosthodontist and maxillofacial prosthetist become ever more important. Moreover, their contribution is often of the longest duration. During the two to four years they may be working with a patient, they are the ones who often develop the closest relationships with the patient, and become even more important to the medical centre team.