Free flaps are generally the preferred method for reconstructing large defects of the midface, orbit, and maxilla that include the lip and oral commissure; commissuroplasty is traditionally performed at a second stage. Functional results of the oral sphincter using this reconstructive approach are, however, limited. This article presents a new approach to the reconstruction of massive defects of the lip and midface using a free flap in combination with a lip-switch flap. This was used in 10 patients. One-third to one-half of the upper lip was excised in seven patients, one-third of the lower lip was excised in one patient, and both the upper and lower lips were excised (one-third each) in two patients. All patients had maxillectomies, with or without mandibulectomies, in addition to full-thickness resections of the cheek. A switch flap from the opposite lip was used for reconstruction of the oral commissure and oral sphincter, and a rectus abdominis myocutaneous flap with two or three skin islands was used for reconstruction of the through-and-through defect in the midface.
Free flap survival was 100 percent. All patients had good-to-excellent oral competence, and they were discharged without feeding tubes. A majority (80 percent) of the patients had an adequate oral stoma and could eat a soft diet. All patients have a satisfactory postoperative result.
Immediate reconstruction of defects using a lip-switch procedure creates an oral sphincter that has excellent function, with good mobility and competence. This is a simple procedure that adds minimal operative time to the free-flap reconstruction and provides the patient with a functional stoma and acceptable appearance. The free flap can be used to reconstruct the soft tissue of the intraoral lining and external skin deficits, but it should not be used to reconstruct the lip. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 103: 1850, 1999.)