Girl undergoes rare surgery after infection left her unable to open her mouth

A 6-year-old girl in London became one of the youngest patients to undergo surgery to ‘unlock’ her jaw after she developed a rare condition that left her unable to open her mouth more than a few millimeters, BBC News reported.

When she was 18 months old, Liliana Cernecca developed an ear infection that spread into her jaw bone – causing her to develop ankylosis. For patients with this condition, the bones in the jaw fuse to the skull, leaving a person unable to properly open his or her mouth.

In Liliana’s case, while the right side of her jaw was fused, the left side continued to grow – slowly deforming the shape of her face. Liliana’s mother, Sonia, said the condition also left her daughter unable to properly eat or practice good oral hygiene.

"Eating was difficult and messy, and it was difficult brushing teeth,” Sonia told BBC News. “She'd never really known being able to take a bite from an apple; we had to just cut food up really small."

With the hope of giving Liliana a more normal life, doctors at King’s College Hospital in London decided to perform surgery.

“We couldn't leave her like this as things would only get worse,” Dr. Shaun Matthews, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at King's College, told BBC News. "Although she already had extremely limited mouth opening – 5 millimeters or thereabouts – the chances are it was going to get worse to the point where she had none at all, and clearly that was going to be entirely unacceptable."

During the operation, doctors removed the fused portion of Liliana’s jaw, leaving the right side of her jaw attached only by muscles and ligaments. Over time, doctors expect the excised portion of the jaw will regrow normally.

Since the operation, Liliana has shown great progress. She is now able to yawn and chew, and she is more talkative and confident at school.

"We will monitor her growth very carefully over the next several years and through puberty in particular,” Matthews told BBC News. “She may well need to have further interventional surgery as she gets older, particularly once she's gone through her adolescent growth spurt, but that should be easier to correct now that her main problem has been overcome."

Click for more from BBC News.