Summary: While plastic surgery is most often—and should be most often—performed on those who are over the age of 18, there are still a number of reasons why children could require reconstructive surgery. Pediatric plastic surgery is unique in that the cosmetic aspects are virtually inseparable from the reconstructive, as the two elements are so thoroughly intertwined in children. Here’s a closer look at some of the common health conditions that could necessitate pediatric plastic surgery.
The incomplete development of an upper lip or palate is not uncommon. Although inherited from parents in about 25 percent of patients, the majority of cases result from a combination of lifestyle and environmental factors, such as mothers smoking during pregnancy. While cleft lip/palate technically falls under the larger category of craniofacial abnormalities, its prevalence warrants its own mention.
There are certainly cosmetic reasons that reconstruction may be considered, but cleft lip/cleft palate presents a danger to a child’s health and normal development as well. This physical abnormality can interfere with breastfeeding, eating and speech patterns. Reconstructive surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate can lead to an improved quality of life for the affected child, as well as a cosmetically improved physical appearance.
Correcting craniofacial abnormalities in children is a common reason to perform pediatric plastic surgery. Whether resulting from physical trauma or due to a malformation that has been present since birth, there are several conditions that may be improved through pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery:
- Craniosynostosis – This premature fusion of one or more skull plates requires surgical intervention for correction back into a natural shape. Craniosynostosis can develop on its own, or in connection with additional birth defects.
- Orthopedic Irregularities – Both genetic malformations of the teeth and jaw area and trauma responsible for physical abnormalities may require pediatric surgery to correct. As with cleft lip/palate repair, treatment is often related more to concerns over quality of life rather than cosmetic appearance.
- Plagiocephaly – Development of a flattened spot on the skull has become more frequent in part due to the “Back to Sleep” campaign initiated by the American Academy of Pediatrics in an effort to limit SIDS cases. Often, plagiocephaly treatment is a matter of educating parents about regular sleep repositioning, although plastic surgeons may recommend helmet therapy for severe cases.
Ears & Nose Appearance
Otoplasty, commonly referred to as cosmetic ear surgery, is among the most frequently performed pediatric plastic surgery procedures. While surgery to correct the shape or position of the ear is primarily cosmetic, otoplasty may also be performed as an effective treatment for microtia, the underdevelopment of the external ear.
Like otoplasty, nose surgery (rhinoplasty) is mainly performed for cosmetic reasons, but may be beneficial in improving physical complications as well, such as chronic sinusitis or correcting a deviated septum. The reason rhinoplasty is one of the few plastic surgeries that can be performed on minors is because the nose reaches full maturity sooner than the rest of the body, ensuring long-lasting results even when patients are younger.
Results to Grow On
In general, other than correcting congenital defects or abnormalities due to injury, plastic surgery in children is not recommended. This is because the body is still growing, and the results that look just fine on a five-year-old may not fit the quickly changing face and body a few years later. If pediatric plastic surgery is recommended, it’s absolutely essential to choose a doctor who specializes in this niche for results that can offer immediate improvements as well as a foundation to grow upon.