Cheek Implant Overview

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If you have a face that is flat, drawn or gaunt looking, or if age has reduced the size and shape of your cheeks, a cosmetic procedure called cheek augmentation surgery or cheek implants may be able to help you. During a cheek augmentation, an implant or other material is placed under the skin of your face and over your cheekbone to compensate for a lack of prominence in this area.  Using an implant, a cosmetic surgeon can change your facial structure to create a soft and attractive appearance.

If you are considering a cheek augmentation—which is also called a malar augmentation or cheek implant—you should make sure you are working with a surgeon who has experience with this procedure. While some surgeons may focus exclusively on cosmetic surgeries relating to the body, others focus only on facial procedures and have the experience and aesthetic knowledge needed to create a symmetrical face.

Are You a Candidate for Cheek Augmentation?

Cheek augmentation surgery is one type of cosmetic plastic surgery of the face. In 2006, there were just over 8,800 cheek implant procedures done, according the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

If you are considering getting cheek implants, think seriously. It is relatively minor surgery, but it is surgery. The most important factor to think about is your overall health. You should be free of any active diseases or other pre-existing medical conditions that could complicate the surgery or the recovery period. If you have asthma, diabetes, allergies, any heart conditions, or other medical problems, make sure your physician knows. Tell your physician about all medications you take, including vitamin and herbal supplements.

You should be in good physical health, but you should be healthy mentally and emotionally as well. The healing process after surgery can be difficult and may require patience and mental stability. After surgery, some people go through a period of depression that could aggravate any pre-existing depression.

You should have a discussion about how you want to look with your plastic surgeon before the cheek augmentation procedure takes place. You and your surgeon can examine cheek augmentation before-and-after photos to be sure you both agree about how you will look after cheek implants surgery.

It is important to note that most medical insurance will not cover the costs associated with cheek augmentation. You will be responsible for your doctor's fee and other costs associated with the surgery. However, financing can be arranged. 

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Cheek Implant Options

Several types of substances are used in cheek augmentation surgery. Some surgeons prefer to use injections of filler materials, while others prefer solid implants made of various substances and in many shapes and sizes to fit different faces. They can even be custom shaped. One benefit of using a solid implant is that it can be removed if there are any problems.

Injections of filler materials can be used to build up the area of the cheeks. The material used can be fat or other tissue taken from somewhere else on the body (autologous fat or tissue). This tissue cannot be rejected because it is your own tissue, however it can be reabsorbed, which means that the results may not be permanent. The fat is harvested using a syringe and this may be done at a different appointment, before your cheek augmentation. Injections are minimally invasive and are done in the doctor's office.

One widely used type of implant in cheek augmentation surgery is made of solid silicone. Silicone is a durable and flexible substance that is widely used in medicine and is regarded as safe for use in the body. Unlike silicone breast implants, which are rubbery sacks filled with saline or silicone gel, silicone cheek implants are solid. They cannot rupture or leak silicone into the body.

Other materials that are widely used in cheek augmentation include polyethelene, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), and an acellular dermal matrix product made from donated human skin tissue. The brand name for ePTFE is Gore-Tex and the brand name for the acellular dermal matrix is Alloderm.

Most surgeons choose to place the incision for cheek implants inside the mouth, so that there are no visible scars. However, if other cosmetic procedures are being done on the face, such as a face lift, your surgeon may use the incisions needed for those procedures for your cheek implants. In either case, your surgeon will create a pocket—usually over your cheekbones, but sometimes in a slightly different location depending on the shape of your face—and insert the implant. In some cases, the implant will be attached to the bones of your face using screws or sutures.

Cheek implants are more invasive than injections of filler materials, and can be done in a doctor's office or in a freestanding surgical center. You will probably go home the same day as your surgery, but may need someone to drive you home.

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How a Cheek Implant Is Performed

You should have a firm understanding of how a cheek augmentation is performed. Most cheek augmentation procedures take a little less than an hour. Other procedures (such as a rhinoplasty, face lift or a chin implant) can be performed at the same time as a cheek implant, but this will lengthen the total time for surgery.

There are several phases involved in the process of cheek augmentation, including:

Preparation: This is the time when you are "prepped" for surgery. You will be scrubbed with an antimicrobial agent to help prevent infection. An intravenous (IV) line will be started and you will be hooked up to monitors to allow your surgeon to keep track of your vital signs.

Anesthesia: Your surgeon will discuss the subject of anesthesia with you before your surgery. If you are having only cheek augmentation done, your surgeon will probably use a local anesthetic to numb your face combined with a mild sedative to keep you relaxed. However, if other procedures are being performed, your surgeon may recommend using a general anesthetic, where you are asleep through surgery.

Surgical Procedure: The surgical procedure phase for cheek augmentation begins after the anesthesia is administered. Once the incisions are closed, a dressing is applied to protect the wounds, keep the implant securely in place and reduce swelling.

Recovery: During the recovery phase, your sedation will gradually wear off over the course of an hour or so. The staff will keep an eye on you and give you pain relievers if you need them. You can go home, but will probably need to be driven home.

Visit the Resource Center to stay abreast of the latest news, trends and breakthroughs in cosmetic plastic surgery.

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