What is oral cancer surgical reconstruction?

Surgical reconstruction after oral surgery may be needed to help restore appearance, structure and function of the areas that were affected by the oral cancer surgery.

If you have a small tumor, the tumor will be removed along with a small area of normal tissue that surrounds the tumor. In these cases, reconstructive surgery may not be needed.

For patients with larger tumors in the mouth, throat or neck, reconstructive surgery may be necessary.

In most cases, the reconstruction will be performed at the same time the cancer is removed.

Who is a candidate for surgical reconstruction after oral surgery?

Patients who have medium to large size tumors that require a large portion of facial or neck tissue or bone removed may be candidates for surgical reconstruction.

Your Mercy Health surgeon will explore the various options you have to restore structure and function to the surgical area.

What are the risks associated with surgical reconstruction after oral surgery?

Surgical reconstruction is major surgery that could lead to serious complications.

Complications may include:

  • Infection 
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Head or neck disfiguration

What to expect during a surgical reconstruction after oral surgery?

Your Mercy Health surgeon may use skin grafts, free flaps, nerve grafts or dental implants to reconstruct your oral cavity.

Skin grafts

Your Mercy Health surgeon can repair small soft tissue abnormalities in the tongue or lining of the mouth using a skin graft. A skin graft is a slice of skin taken from another area of the body such as the thigh.

Flap tissue

Patients who have a large tumor in the mouth, throat or neck may have surgical reconstruction with a flap of skin, muscle or fat. Your surgeon may remove a muscle (with or without skin) from the chest, scalp or upper back to repair the disfiguration. 

During the procedure, they will cut and sew together blood vessels under a microscope in a procedure called microsurgery. This procedure will help restore blood flow to tissue in the area of repair and may be used to repair structures that affect the mouth’s functions such as chewing, swallowing food and speaking.

Nerve graft

Doctors may take a nerve from another part of the body to implant in the tongue or lips to restore sensation. This procedure can help patients learn to speak and swallow again.

Bone reconstruction

Mercy Health surgeons can perform a bone reconstruction to reconstruct the upper and lower jawbones. Before the procedure, your doctors will use imaging to generate images of the tumor and jaw to evaluate the area that needs to be reconstructed. These images help your surgical team make incisions to remove the cancerous tumor and build a new jaw.

Depending on the type of reconstruction you need, your doctor may use fibula (lower leg bone) or scapula (shoulder blade). Your doctor will ensure that the bone that he or she takes does not create a disability.

Dental implants

Your surgeon may recommend dental implants to restore your ability to chew after oral cancer surgery. Dental implants are screws that are placed into the jawbone to replace the root of a tooth. After the implant is in place, your doctor can then attach new custom teeth.

Recovery from a surgical reconstruction after oral cancer surgery

The time it will take to recover from reconstructive surgery will vary depending on the type of procedure you are having. If you had a skin graft, you may need two to three days in the hospital, but if you need more extensive reconstruction, you may need to stay in the hospital a week or more.

In many cases, you will need therapy to restore your speech or swallowing abilities. Your Mercy Health doctor will refer you to a therapist that will be able to help you. You may also need physical therapy if you had a portion of bone removed from a limb.

Find a reconstructive surgeon nearby

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