Anatomical Structure of the Buccal Fat Pad and Its Clinical Adaptations

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Abstract

Before performing plastic and aesthetic surgery around the buccal area, the authors reviewed the anatomical structures of the buccal fat pad in 11 head specimens (i.e., 22 sides of the face). The enveloping, fixed tissues and the source of the nutritional vessels to the buccal fat pad and its relationship with surrounding structures were observed in detail, with the dissection procedure described step by step. The dissection showed that the buccal fat pad can be divided into three lobes—anterior, intermediate, and posterior—according to the structure of the lobar envelopes, the formation of the ligaments, and the source of the nutritional vessels. The buccal, pterygoid, pterygopalatine, and temporal extensions (superficial and profound) are derived from the posterior lobe. The buccal fat pad is fixed by six ligaments to the maxilla, posterior zygoma, and inner and outer rim of the infraorbital fissure, temporalis tendon, or buccinator membrane. Several nutritional vessels exist in each lobe and in the subcapsular vascular plexus forms. The buccal fat pads function to fill the deep tissue spaces, to act as gliding pads when masticatory and mimetic muscles contract, and to cushion important structures from the extrusion of muscle contraction or outer force impulsion. The volume of the buccal fat pad may change throughout a person's life. Based on the findings of the dissections, the authors provide several clinical applications for the buccal fat pad, such as the mechanism of deepening the nasolabial fold and possible rhytidectomy to suspend the anterior lobe upward and backward. They suggest that relaxation, poor development of the ligaments, or rupture of the buccal fat pad capsules can make the buccal extension drop or prolapse to the mouth or subcutaneous layer. As such, the authors refined their methods and heightened their focus when using the buccal fat pad to perform a random or pedicled buccal fat pad fat flap or to correct a buccal skin protrusion or hollow. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 109: 2508, 2002.)

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