Oral surgery can be a daunting prospect for many people. The thought of having to undergo oral surgery can seem overwhelming, but it is a relatively common procedure intended to address a variety of oral health concerns. Oral surgery is needed when traditional dental procedures are unable to address the issue, and it typically requires a skilled and experienced oral surgeon. But what does an oral surgeon do exactly?
Oral surgeon vs. general dentist
An oral surgeon and a general dentist both aim to help patients achieve and maintain healthy smiles. If you’re interested in working in the healthcare field, it can be helpful to explore how your role as an oral surgeon may differ from that of a dentist so you can identify which profession is best for you. Here are ways the career path and work responsibilities of an oral surgeon and general dentist contrast:
The amount of training you undergo as a dental provider depends on your specialty and the type of services you want to provide for your patients. Both types of doctors earn bachelor’s degrees, where they study subjects related to health care, including anatomy, pharmacology and physiology. They also practice their clinical skills by treating patients and diagnosing issues in oral health. General dentists attend dental school, where they learn how to perform medical procedures and use dental instruments to service patients. Upon completion of dental school, they earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine or Doctor of Dental Surgery degree.
Oral surgeons also attend dental school, but instead of pursuing licensure following graduation, they enroll in a surgical residency program, which takes an additional four to six years. The program enables candidates to learn from experienced surgeons and gain skills in performing complex procedures on patients. The training is also accredited, meaning the candidates who participate are learning protocols that meet the standards of the industry. After the residency, the oral surgeon completes a test that certifies them to practice dental surgery. While dentists and oral surgeons study medicine extensively, surgeons complete more training.
Oral surgeons, also known as maxillofacial surgeons, require significant education and training to become certified and licensed. They are required to complete four years of undergraduate study, four years of dental school, and then an additional four to six years of residency training.
During residency, oral surgeons receive specialized training in the following areas:
- Diagnosis and treatment of facial trauma
- Dental implants
- Reconstruction surgery
- Corrective jaw surgery
- Diagnosis and treatment of oral cancers
- Treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
Types of procedures
Another difference between the dental providers is the type of procedures that they oversee. General dentists are responsible for simpler routines, such as filling a cavity, performing a root canal, or installing a bridge or crown. These procedures may not require anesthesia. While dentists can extract teeth, oral surgeons are responsible for removing wisdom teeth. They also can withdraw tissue from the jaw, participate in reconstructive surgery of the face or insert dental implants. The complexity of the procedures requires the patients of oral surgeons to receive anesthesia.
The types of services you specialize in as a dental provider can also impact your salary. The national average salary of a general dentist is $214,554 per year. Surgeons earn a national average salary of $298,137 per year. Other factors that influence earning potential include location and experience. For example, an oral surgeon who lives in a city with a high cost of living may make more money than a counterpart who works in an area with low living costs. Salary may also increase the longer surgeons have worked in the healthcare field.
Types of Procedures
Oral surgeons perform a variety of oral and maxillofacial surgery procedures to address different oral health concerns. Here are some common types of oral surgery procedures:
Tooth extraction is one of the most common oral surgery procedures. An oral surgeon performs wisdom tooth extraction when there is no other option to save it. This could be due to severe decay, a broken tooth, or overcrowding issues. An oral surgeon can also perform wisdom teeth removals, which can sometimes be a more complicated procedure that requires the use of general anesthesia.
Dental bone graft
A dental bone graft is necessary when bone loss has occurred in your jaw. There are a couple of reasons why this may occur. When your natural teeth are present, the roots stimulate the nerves in your jaw. This signals your brain to send nutrients to your jaw, keeping it strong and healthy. If a tooth has been missing for some time, bone deterioration can occur in that area because there are no roots to stimulate the nerves.
A dental bone graft restores volume and density in your jawbone so that dental implants can be placed later on. Sometimes, your provider might place a bone graft during periodontal surgery. Advanced gum disease can cause the bone around your teeth to erode. A bone graft reduces mobility and provides a solid foundation, keeping your teeth strong and healthy.
Dental implants involve replacing one or more missing teeth with artificial teeth that look and feel like natural teeth. Oral surgeons are often the ones who place the titanium posts into the jawbone, which acts as the base for the artificial teeth.
Corrective Jaw Surgery
Corrective jaw surgery — also called orthognathic surgery — is a complex procedure that involves realigning the jaws and teeth to improve function and appearance. It can be used to address issues such as jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and misalignment of the teeth and jaws. This procedure may be recommended to improve chewing function, correct misalignment, or address facial imbalances. Corrective jaw surgery is also used to ease pain caused by TMJ dysfunction (TMD).
If you have moderate or severe periodontitis, a gum specialist may recommend gum disease treatment. During this procedure, incisions are made along your gum line, and the tissue is temporarily moved back away from your teeth. Your surgeon will then clean your teeth roots, flushing away plaque and bacteria that have accumulated under your gums. Finally, the gum tissue is repositioned and sutured into place.
Sometimes, gum recession can occur as a result of periodontitis. In these instances, you may need a gum graft. During this procedure, your surgeon reinforces the area of tissue loss with donor tissue. This tissue may be taken from the roof of your mouth or purchased at a certified tissue bank.
TMJ Disorder Treatment
TMJ disorder is a condition that causes pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement. Oral surgeons can diagnose and treat this condition using a variety of techniques, including medication, physical therapy, and sometimes surgeries.
Cleft lip and palate repair
A baby born with a cleft lip has an opening in their upper lip, while a baby born with a cleft palate has an opening in the roof of their mouth. Some babies are born with both conditions. Cleft lip and palate occur when the facial structures don’t fully develop in the uterus. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons commonly perform cleft lip and palate repair to restore normal eating function and help a child develop proper speech patterns later on in life.
What does an oral surgeon do?
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a type of dental specialist who performs medical procedures on a patient’s mouth, jaw, and face. The procedures can help treat various conditions, such as gum disease, sleep apnea, tooth decay, and oral cancer. The oral surgeon evaluates a patient before surgery, addresses the condition during surgery, and monitors the patient’s condition after the procedure is complete. Here’s a list of the typical responsibilities:
- Administering local and general anesthesia to patients before procedures
- Performing jaw surgery to correct breathing and make eating and swallowing easier for patients
- Developing treatment plans for chronic conditions
- Assisting orthodontists during surgery to prepare patients for orthodontic treatments
- Spearheading cleft lip surgery
- Fixing lacerations on the face and jaw
- Overseeing emergency procedures, such as broken jaws
- Assessing patients’ symptoms to diagnose cancers
Oral surgeons play a critical role in maintaining oral health and improving the quality of life for people of all ages. Their specialized training and expertise make them well-equipped to handle complex procedures that other dental professionals may not be able to address. If you are facing an oral surgery procedure, rest assured that you are in capable hands with an experienced and skilled oral surgeon who will work with your dentist to ensure the best outcome possible.