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Changes in your appearance

Surgery that involves your jaw, face or mouth may change the way you look. But, modern techniques and reconstructive surgery are much better than in the past. So you are less likely to have to deal with a lot of scarring, even with very big operations.

Your surgeons do all they can to position any scars in the creases you already have on your face. With time, many scars fade and become hard to see. You might still be very aware of them but other people may not even notice.

You might need to have bones, muscle or tissue removed from your face. Your surgeon can often rebuild (reconstruct) them, using bone tissue from other parts of your body.

Nerve weakness

Rarely, people have a permanent weakness of the nerve that controls the movement of their face on the side they have had surgery. This nerve controls the closing of your eye, wrinkling of your nose and moving your lips. It can mean your facial expression doesn’t change in the same way as it did.

How surgery might affect your self esteem

How you look is an important part of your self esteem. It can be very hard to accept sudden changes in your looks. It's is not unusual for people who've had surgery to their face to feel very angry, confused and upset for some time after their operation.

You might feel worried about how your friends and family see you. Or about being physically attractive to your partner. Going back to work, socialising and meeting new people can all be more of a struggle if you are trying to cope with changes in your appearance. If you have children, you might worry about how their friends will see you and if that will affect your children.

Many people worry about these things. The important thing to remember is that those closest to you will not think of you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so let them know how you are feeling. Talking to them about how you feel can help you to feel less isolated, which in turn can reduce feelings of sadness or depression.

Things that can help you cope

There are several things that might help you cope with changes in your looks.

Knowing what to expect during your treatment and recovery can really help, even if you don’t think you want to know. Ask your surgeon about how you will look afterwards.

You are likely to be swollen and sore immediately after your surgery. Remember this is temporary.

Some people find it helpful to speak to someone who has been through a similar experience.

Talk to your specialist or nurse if you would like to do this. They might be able to arrange for you to meet another patient who has had similar treatment in the past.

Some people avoid looking at themselves for a while after surgery. You are likely to be a bit swollen and numb at first and this can take a few weeks to settle down. You are also likely to have stitches.

How you look in the first few days is not how you will look in the long term. It sometimes helps to have someone with you to support you when you first look in the mirror.

Other people may not know what to say when they first see you. They won’t want to say anything that is likely to upset you. It's often easier to bring up the subject yourself and let them know how you feel about things. It is a good idea to look at yourself regularly in the mirror to help you come to terms with any change. It can also help you feel less worried about how other people see you.

When you first go out in public, go with someone you trust and feel comfortable with. Be prepared for different reactions. Some people might be shocked by any change in your appearance. Others will be at ease and make you feel comfortable very quickly.

It is very difficult to predict how people will react. Some will be curious to know what has happened. Remember you are the one in control and it is up to you how much you tell people.

Often the best support you can get is from the people you are closest to. Sometimes people don’t want to share their feelings because they are worried that they will upset others. But you may be surprised by how much it can help. Try to talk to your partner if you are having problems with your intimate relationships because you feel that you are no longer attractive.

Getting help and support

Not everyone feels comfortable asking for outside help and support, but many people find it very useful. There are a number of organisations and support groups that help people cope with changes in physical appearance. These include:

  • Changing Faces – helps people cope with any form of facial disfigurement
  • Let’s Face It – links people to resources that can help them cope better with facial disfigurements
  • Mouth Cancer Foundation – supports people affected by head and neck cancer

Information and help