Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is an Oral Surgeon?

picture courtesy of

I find that many of my friends, perhaps family, and definitely colleagues (both dental and medical) are unsure of what Oral Surgeons do. Now that I am officially on my way to joining the field, I thought I would answer a few of your questions.

Oral Surgeons, or Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons (OMS), are dental specialists. They possess either a DDS or DMD degree and complete either a 4 or 6 year hospital based surgical residency after dental school. Six year programs also give their residents an MD degree. OMS can perform the same procedures regardless of which kind of program they complete. Residency includes extensive training in medicine, general surgery, anesthesia, etc, in addition to oral surgery training. Many surgeons pursue further training by completing fellowships in areas such as cancer treatment, plastic surgery (including whole body), or reconstruction.

Many of you may have visited an oral surgeon as a teenager for the removal of your impacted wisdom teeth or for extractions in relation to orthodontic treatment (I know I did both). They also perform other surgeries of the teeth and jaw including uncovering impacted teeth so the orthodontist can bring them down into the bite, removing teeth and preparing jaws for dentures, the placement of dental implants, and biopsies of suspicious lesions of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth. They are also the primary provider for patients with dangerous tooth related infections.

Oral surgeons are also qualified to perform orthognathic surgery, or corrective jaw surgery. There are many patients who despite orthodontic treatment cannot achieve an acceptable bite due to skeletal discrepancies in growth (for example, their lower jaw grows more than their upper jaw, giving them an underbite). These not only aid in the ability to chew but can have a dramatic cosmetic change. Check out this website for a few dramatic before and after pics.

Corrective Jaw Surgery

Some OMS perform head and neck cancer surgeries. Others repair cleft lips and palates in young children. Plastic surgery of the head and neck (botox, anyone?), repair of facial trauma, treatment of TMJ disorders, treatment of craniofacial disorders, etc are all within the scope of practice.

Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons can do much more than just wisdom teeth!


Amber W. said...

Man, that description brought back all of the memories of the surgeries I had to go through during my time in braces. But on the bright side, maybe some day soon, you'll be able to tell me why I have to shift my jaw to the right to be able to open my mouth all the way...

Erin said...

Amber, sounds like you have a displaced disc! There is a cushion like disc between the head of your jaw and your joint. This moves back and forth with the jaw as you open and close but can sometimes get dislodged and end up in the wrong place which can inhibit correct movement. That would be my guess but I will do some more learning!

Abby said...

That's some serious stuff you'll be able to do, but seriously the real question is yes or no: Can you give me cheap botox in 20 years?;)

(really though...)