Buccal fat refers to the fat that sits in the hollow area beneath the cheekbones. The amount of buccal fat affects a person’s face shape. People who are unhappy with their facial appearance may opt to have buccal fat removal. This is a type of plastic surgery that aims to thin and narrow the cheeks.

This article describes what buccal fat is and outlines who may be a suitable candidate for buccal fat removal. We also describe the surgical procedure, including its risks, complications, and costs.

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Buccal fat, or the buccal fat pad, is a naturally-occurring pad of fat deep in the hollow area beneath each cheekbone.

Everyone has buccal fat pads, though the size of the fat pads varies. It is also possible for one buccal fat pad to be larger than the other.

Although buccal fat is completely natural, some people are self-conscious about the shape or size of their faces. A person with larger buccal fat pads may feel as though their face is too round or full.

Buccal fat removal is a form of cosmetic surgery where a plastic surgeon removes the buccal fat pad for a narrower facial shape. Other names for this surgery include:

A person may be a suitable candidate for buccal fat removal if they are unhappy with their current face shape or have concerns about the appearance of their cheeks. They will also need to be sufficiently fit and healthy to undergo the surgery.

Additionally, cosmetic surgeons do not recommend buccal fat removal for people who have naturally narrow or thin cheeks.

Below is some information on what a person can expect before, during, and after buccal fat removal surgery.

Initial consultation

Before an individual can undergo buccal fat removal surgery, they must attend an initial consultation to discuss the following:

  • surgical goals and expectations
  • medical history, such as:
    • prior or existing medical conditions
    • previous medical treatments or surgeries
    • drug allergies
  • current medications, including herbal supplements and vitamins
  • use of tobacco, alcohol, or drugs

During the initial consultation, the surgeon may also examine and take photographs of the face.

During the procedure

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), buccal fat removal involves the following steps:

  1. Anesthesia: Before the procedure, an anesthesiologist will generally give the person a general anesthetic to minimize discomfort, though they may opt for local anesthesia in some cases. Those who plan to have multiple surgeries may receive general anesthesia.
  2. Incision: During the procedure, the surgeon makes two incisions on the inside of the person’s mouth. They will then make the incisions on opposite sides of the mouth, allowing them to cut and remove the fat pad from each cheek.
  3. Sutures: Once the surgeon has removed the buccal fat pads, they close the incisions using absorbable sutures.

After the procedure, the surgeon may instruct the person to follow a liquid or soft diet for several days.

Additional aftercare instructions may include:

  • using a special mouth rinse to reduce the chance of infection
  • taking oral or topical medications to aid the healing process
  • scheduling a follow-up appointment to ensure the incision site is healing properly

It is typical for people to feel sore and swollen after surgery, and some may also experience bruising. However, these symptoms will fade as the cheek area heals.

Full recovery from buccal fat removal surgery typically takes several weeks, though it may take longer in some cases.

Possible risks and complications of buccal fat removal surgery include:

  • undesirable results or excess removal of fat
  • facial asymmetry
  • facial numbness
  • temporary or permanent facial muscle weakness
  • injury to a salivary duct
  • excessive bleeding
  • hematoma, a collection of blood beneath the skin
  • seroma, a collection of fluid beneath the skin
  • prolonged swelling
  • persistent pain
  • infection
  • reaction to the anesthesia
  • deep vein thrombosis
  • complications involving the heart or lungs

People should seek immediate medical attention if they experience the following symptoms after surgery:

The cost of buccal fat removal may vary according to the surgeon’s experience and location.

According to the ASPS, buccal fat removal costs may include the following:

  • the surgeon’s fee
  • facility or hospital costs
  • anesthesia fees
  • prescription or medication fees
  • medical or imaging tests

A person’s health insurance will not cover buccal fat removal. However, many surgeons offer payment plans for the procedure. CareCredit also offers cosmetic and beauty financing options.

Buccal fat removal surgery is a cosmetic procedure that can make a person’s cheeks appear thinner. During the procedure, a plastic surgeon removes an individual’s buccal fat pads, creating a narrower facial appearance.

Recovery from buccal fat removal typically takes several weeks. And as with any procedure, buccal fat removal comes with potential risks and side effects. Anyone with concerns about their recovery should speak with their surgeon for further advice.