It’s a common myth that all plastic surgery is cosmetic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Plastic surgery is a broad field that includes not only cosmetic, but also reconstructive procedures to repair imperfections and improve quality of life. In fact, nearly six million reconstructive plastic surgeries were performed in just 2019 alone.
What exactly is reconstructive plastic surgery, and how does it differ from cosmetic surgical procedures? In this article, we’ll provide an overview of reconstructive plastic surgery: what it is, the benefits and risks to patients, who makes a good candidate, and how to properly prepare.
What Is Reconstructive Plastic Surgery?
Reconstructive plastic surgery is performed to correct facial and body abnormalities caused by injury, disease, birth defects, infection, tumors, and aging. Unlike elective cosmetic procedures, reconstructive plastic surgery is almost always considered medically necessary. As such, most reconstructive procedures are covered by insurance.
The top reconstructive procedures in 2019 were tumor removal, laceration repair, maxillofacial surgery, scar revision, and hand surgery. Several surgical procedures are considered reconstructive as opposed to cosmetic, including the following:
Skin Cancer Removal
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world, impacting one in five Americans by age 70. Fortunately, skin cancer is often easy to treat if it’s caught early. MOHS surgery is used to remove skin cancer growths on the face, head, and neck, though it can be effective for other areas of the body as well. The MOHS technique involves removing and analyzing the first layer of skin around the lesion, and then continuing the process until all cancerous tissue is removed.
While it’s always possible for skin cancer to recur following treatment, it’s very unlikely with MOHS surgery. In fact, it typically has a 97-99 percent cure rate, though this varies by individual and type of skin cancer. Choosing an experienced facial plastic surgeon to perform your MOHS surgery is important to ensure your skin cancer is removed completely, while also minimizing the cosmetic impact. Additionally, a facial plastic surgeon is also skilled at reconstructing the site where the skin cancer was removed, if needed, to restore your appearance so you look and feel like yourself again.
Cleft Lip and Palate Repair
Cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects and congenital anomalies. Incomplete formation of the upper lip (cleft lip) or roof of the mouth (cleft palate) can either occur individually or together. Both cleft lip and cleft palate can vary in severity and can either involve one or both sides of the mouth. Cleft lip and/or palate repair surgery restores function to the lips and mouth, while also resulting in a more normal appearance.
Everyone has a scar or two they’d like to get rid of, but some are more visible and severe than others. Large, prominent scars are often an unavoidable (and unwelcome) result of an injury. A reconstructive plastic surgeon can remove excess scar tissue and reconstruct surrounding skin to minimize the appearance of a scar. During scar revision surgery, a reconstructive surgeon may reduce the size of a scar, reposition it to make it less visible, and/or smooth the skin.
Ptosis occurs when drooping of the upper eyelid partially covers the pupil, creating a tired, sleepy appearance and obstructing vision. It can either be caused by gradual stretching of skin tissue that occurs with aging or due to a weak levator muscle, which is used to raise the eyelid. During ptosis repair surgery, which is also known as eyelid surgery or upper blepharoplasty, an incision is concealed along the normal crease of the upper eyelid. The reconstructive plastic surgeon then tightens the levator muscle to elevate the eyelid, allow for a full field of vision, and achieve symmetry.
Deviated Septum Correction
A deviated or “crooked” septum occurs when the septum shifts towards one side of the nasal cavity, often reducing airflow due to the blockage. Septoplasty can be performed by itself or in conjunction with rhinoplasty (called septorhinoplasty) to restore function, increase airflow, and improve the cosmetic appearance. During the procedure, a facial plastic surgeon trims and straightens the septum, significantly improving airflow and minimizing the frequency of sinusitis caused by the deviation.
Who's a Good Candidate For Reconstructive Plastic Surgery?
Individuals with birth defects like cleft lip or palate and craniofacial anomalies are often good candidates for reconstructive plastic surgery. Those with deformities caused by an accident, infection, disease, or aging are also likely candidates for reconstructive surgery, with the exception of high-risk individuals. To be considered a candidate for reconstructive plastic surgery, patients also should be non-smokers in good health.
Are There Risks Associated With Reconstructive Plastic Surgery?
Although rare when performed by an experienced surgeon, possible surgical complications include infection, bruising, excessive bleeding, issues with wound healing, and anesthesia problems. Certain patients may have an increased risk of complications, such as those who smoke, have an impaired immune system, have skin damage from radiation, struggle with poor circulation, or have connective tissue damage.
How Do You Prepare For Reconstructive Plastic Surgery?
Research surgeons in your area who specialize in reconstructive plastic surgery with experience in the procedure you’re considering. If you’re having a facial plastic surgery procedure performed, make sure your surgeon is board-certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ABFPRS).
Follow any instructions your surgeon provides during your consultation, like fasting the night and/or morning before surgery, or temporarily stopping certain medications. Depending on the recovery process you can expect, which differs based on the reconstructive procedure, you may want to arrange for a family member or friend to help take care of you while you’re healing.
Improve Your Quality Of Life With Reconstructive Surgery
If you think you’re a good candidate for reconstructive plastic surgery, the best next step is to schedule a consultation with a specialist in your area. A specialist in reconstructive procedures can help improve both function and appearance, so you can build confidence and correct issues keeping you from living a normal life.