Prosthodontics are artificial replacements for natural features of the face; maxillofacial refers to the jaw and the face area of the body. Maxillofacial prosthodontics specialists are typically highly trained dentists, who are able to help people with issues like missing teeth, malformations of the jaw, and facial problems. The solutions to the complex dentistry or facial issues often encountered in the field of maxillofacial prosthodontics may be temporary or permanent.
The word maxillofacial comes from the Latin word for upper jaw, which is maxilla, and the Latin for face, which is facies. Similarly, prosthodontics derives from prosthesis and the Greek word for tooth, which is odous. Although maxillofacial technically just refers to the face and the upper jaw, the lower jaw is generally included in the field too.
Teeth have two major functions. They are primarily used to crush food before it enters the stomach, but they also give support and structure to the face. As well as these functions, teeth are also a part of the cosmetic appearance of a person. When one or more teeth are missing, this may have a practical effect on quality of life; it may also affect self-esteem. Developmental abnormalities, injuries or diseases of the jaw and face can have the same type of effects.
Dentists who work in the specialty of maxillofacial prosthodontics have developed tools, techniques and prostheses to help alleviate these problems. At the simplest, maxillofacial prosthodontics can involve the covering of a damaged tooth with a crown to match the other teeth in the row. More complex techniques involve implants of artificial teeth into the bone of the jaw, and the design of temporary teeth additions like dentures.
Design of prosthetics for people who have malformed jaws is another area of expertise for the field of dentistry, and the prosthodontist may be able to permanently anchor these into the mouth. Speech problems may be helped through appliances that fit into the mouth and alter the way the person talks. Common origins of dental issues that necessitate maxillofacial prosthodontics include congenital development problems, cancers of the face and head, and accidental injuries.
This field of expertise is primarily a dentistry field, but practitioners are also proficient in issues surrounding the bone of the face, and the features on the face. For example, a person who has lost one or both of the ears or eyes, or the structure of the nose, may visit a maxillofacial prosthodontics expert for an artificial version of the affected feature. This type of work, as well as the dental work, can be performed in conjunction with a range of other experts such as maxillofacial surgeons, doctors who specialize in cancers or speech therapists.