Alternatives To Oral And Maxillofacial Surgery (And How To Avoid It!)
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is something most people prefer to avoid. In some situations, it is possible to choose non-surgical solutions.
Oral and maxillofacial surgery is not something most people choose as an elective procedure. They think of it as trip to the dentist but even more unpleasant. While not all operations are equally uncomfortable, they each have their own side effects and risks. Generally, you would only consider going to an oral surgeon for one of the following reasons:
- You are in pain (chronic or acute)
- Your condition is causing other physical symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life
- You have a medical condition that requires attention (such as an infection or a growth)
- An injury or defect is interfering with normal function of the structures in your mouth, jaw, face, or neck
- You feel very self conscious about asymmetry or other flaws in the appearance of your face or teeth
Are There Other Options?
Sometimes, surgery is only one potential approach to correcting a problem or managing a medical condition. This depends on the situation and tends to be most true when a condition or defect is less serious. Often, the alternatives to surgery are less permanent solutions. But they may buy you time or bring symptoms down to a manageable level. Here are some common reasons patients see an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and potential treatment options besides surgery.
Bite Misalignment – Moderate bite misalignment may be correctable with advanced orthodontics rather than jaw surgery. This type of treatment can take several years to be effective depending on the degree of correction needed. It typically causes some discomfort, but many patients get used to wearing their braces over time.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder – This chronic jaw pain is often treated by surgically flushing out excess fluid and debris in the jaw joint. Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids are non-surgical options for reducing inflammation. Muscle relaxants or Botox may provide temporary relief for the muscle spasms that make TMJ symptoms worse. Physical therapy to relax and retrain your jaw movements may also help. Wearing a dentist-prescribed night guard (splint) may help you stop grinding your teeth and lessen TMJ pain as a result.
Missing Tooth – If you don't have the budget or the tolerance for replacing a badly damaged tooth with a high-quality dental implant, you may be a candidate for a bridge instead. This prosthetic crown attaches to the teeth on each side of the damaged tooth. It requires removing some healthy tissue from these "support" teeth, so they will require ongoing maintenance and crown replacement as well over the years.
Oral Cancer – Some oral cancer cases can be treated with radiation alone rather than surgical excision. A yearly exam that includes an oral cancer screening can identify cancer during its very early stages when this non-surgical treatment may be a viable option. This test takes about 2 minutes and should not cause any discomfort. It simply involves shining a VELscope lamp (a special blue light) into your mouth that will highlight any areas of abnormal tissue.
How to Avoid Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
The number one step you can take to avoid oral surgery is taking good care of your teeth. This means brushing and flossing every day following the instructions of your dentist. Your oral hygiene routine may need to include anti-gingivitis treatment if you have a tendency toward gum disease. Controlling gingivitis and periodontitis helps keep the underlying bone healthy and reduces the chances that you will need surgery to restore the bone in your jaw later.
You should see your dentist on schedule for exams, x-rays, and prophylactic (preventive) cleanings. That way, you can catch tooth decay before it results in tooth loss. Having a cavity filled is a quick and easy procedure compared to getting a dental implant (a process that can take six months or more and that may entail multiple oral surgeries).
Wear your seatbelt when you drive, a bike helmet when you cycle, and a mouth guard and head gear when you engage in contact sports. This can help limit the risk of injury to your face and head that would entail reconstructive oral and maxillofacial surgery.
If you have a tendency to grind or clench your teeth when you get upset, reducing your stress levels could also minimize your risk of developing or worsening a case of TMJ.