What Is an Oral Surgeon? Your Dental Health Specialist
In the course of your average dental visits, you're unlikely to need to visit an oral surgeon. However, it's good to know how remarkably skilled these dental specialists are, in case you need to get dental implants or have a condition that requires delicate jaw surgery. One helpful fact to keep in mind is that dental surgeons are highly trained in the administration of all types of anesthesia and sedatives, so it's unlikely that you'll experience any discomfort in the course of your procedure.
What is an oral surgeon?
An oral surgeon (the short form of "oral and maxillofacial surgeon") is a dentist who has pursued advanced training in surgery. This advanced training takes place in a hospital residency program, and the oral surgery resident studies alongside medical residents to learn about anesthesia, bone grafting, pathology, plastic surgery, and general surgical techniques. There are nine types of dental specialties, and oral surgery is the second most common of these nine. (Orthodontists are slightly more numerous than oral surgeons.)
Reasons to see an oral surgeon
If you present your dentist with a complex dental problem, he or she is likely to feel more comfortable referring you to an oral surgeon. Some of the reasons that patients need to consult an oral surgeon are listed below, demonstrating the broad scope of this specialty.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD or TMJ)
- Jaw or facial pain
- Need for facial cosmetic surgery
- Cleft lip or palate
- Oral growths or tumors
- Installation of dental implants
- Sleep apnea or snoring
- Bone deterioration in the jaw
- Problems with dentures
- Facial injuries such as a broken jaw
- Broken or traumatically injured teeth
- Infected wisdom teeth
- Severe infection or another oral disease
- General anesthesia for any dental procedure
What does an oral surgeon do?
Depending on the type of problem you have, your oral surgeon may treat you in a dentistry office, a surgical outpatient clinic, or a hospital. Oral surgeons often work as part of a team with your dentist, pediatric surgeon, physical therapist, or plastic surgeon, and their practice covers a wide variety of procedures.
Your oral surgeon may order imaging studies or biopsies to help with diagnosing a problem, and they will administer an IV sedative or some form of anesthesia when treating it, whether it's merely placing implants in the mouth of a healthy patient, removing a cancerous tumor, or grafting bone onto the patient's jaw. They are skilled at performing reconstructive surgery following accidental damage to your jaw, cheek, or even forehead or nose areas. If you have obstructive sleep apnea, and various simpler methods haven't been successful, your doctor might refer you to an oral surgeon for corrective surgery on your jaw or soft palate. These specialists are skilled at numerous different procedures because they handle almost every type of serious problem that can arise in the general area of your mouth.
Oral surgeons start out by attending four years of dental school and becoming licensed to practice dentistry in their state. After that, they go on to attend a minimum of four years of residency in a hospital-based oral and maxillofacial surgical program. Following this residency, the oral surgeon can apply for certification from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS). This certification requires the practitioner to pass a comprehensive examination and to show evidence of continuing education throughout their career. You can verify that your oral surgeon is board certified through the ABOMS website.
Referral and research
You will usually receive a referral to an oral surgeon from your primary care physician or your regular dentist. Occasionally, orthodontists and cosmetic dentists also find that they need the assistance of an oral surgeon. Either you will receive the name of a particular oral surgeon, or you will just need to locate a specialist on your own. This extensive article will help guide you to choosing the right oral surgeon for your needs.
Questions to ask your oral surgeon
When you first meet with the specialist that you have chosen, it's a good idea to ask a few questions. A good oral surgeon will be more than happy to answer the following inquiries:
- What is your experience with the procedure that I will need? Since oral and maxillofacial surgery covers such a broad range of treatment methods, it's important to learn more about a practitioner's particular experience with your condition.
- How much does the proposed treatment cost? Dental and medical insurance don't always cover oral surgery, so this is an especially important question. Forbes listed oral surgeons as the fourth best-paying profession in the country, so these procedures tend to be on the pricey side. If you are paying out of pocket, you can always ask if the office has any in-house financing options.
- What laboratory does the oral surgeon work with for diagnostic testing? This question may be relevant when you're researching whether your insurance will cover the recommended lab work.
If you've already had an oral surgery experience, search for your specialist online and write a review of your doctor for future patients to reference.
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About the Author
Betsy Stanton has worked in the health care field as a medical social worker, doula, childbirth educator, and patient care advocate. She has taught classes in medical terminology and anthropology, and has helped many patients navigate the complexities of today's health care system.
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