Derek Steinbacher, DMD, MD, FACS, is the director of craniofacial surgery for Yale Medicine, and chief of oral maxillofacial surgery and dentistry. A plastic surgeon with almost 20 years of experience, he specializes in cleft, craniofacial and maxillofacial surgery. This includes surgeries for babies born with cleft lip and palate, and adults disfigured from trauma or disease, in addition to performing rhinoplasty, cosmetic surgery and other reconstruction.
“Plastic surgery is very powerful,” Dr. Steinbacher says. “It’s a way to take what can seem like an obvious or disfiguring condition, make modifications that allow the patient to look and function normally, and even bring things into the realm of beauty.” Dr. Steinbacher performs as many as 1,000 surgeries a year. He has corrected patients to the point where others are surprised to hear they ever had a condition, defect or deformity.
An associate professor of surgery (plastic) at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Steinbacher pursues research in such areas as bone and cartilage biology, tissue engineering and craniofacial development. He is exploring new tools and techniques to help “minimize scarring, maximize regeneration, augment deficient areas and mitigate regions that are overgrown,” he says. “The goal is to achieve optimal balance, appearance and function.”
Another area of translational plastic surgery research is fat grafting, Dr. Steinbacher says. This technique involves harvesting fat from one area of the body and injecting it into other regions that are undergoing reconstruction. In addition to improving scars and conditioning tissue, fat injections augment areas that lack volume. The underlying biology, including the activity of stem cells, has shown powerful regenerative, pro-vascular, healing and anti-inflammatory effects. The latter has been shown to enhance recovery by decreasing edema and swelling after rhinoplasty and jaw (orthognathic) surgery.
Dr. Steinbacher has been a leader in virtual surgical planning. This approach involves the assessment and manipulation of both 3D photographs and CT scan data to plan and simulate surgical outcomes, and provide intraoperative guidance while repositioning tissues and bone. “The information provided on 3D datasets helps improve our understanding of disease states, as well as outcome and healing assessments, so that we may achieve the best possible results,” Dr. Steinbacher says.
“All of this has been really transformative for patients,” says Dr. Steinbacher, who was attracted to plastic surgery as a creative way to help people. “Intervention using plastic surgery can have such a beneficial impact on patients and families. It is so incredibly rewarding to perform these life-changing procedures. Not only do they allow us to improve a person’s self-esteem, they have a positive impact over many far-reaching aspects of their lives.”