Oral and maxillofacial surgery is the specialty providing surgical care for the mouth and jaw. It is unusual in that it is a hybrid specialty combining the professional education of both dentists and medical doctors. The path to becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, or simply ‘oral surgeon,’ begins with graduating from dental school. The dentist then attends a surgical residency in a hospital, learning general surgical techniques alongside other physicians.
While many routine oral issues can be treated by a dentist, there are some that require specialized surgical care. Some of the procedures performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons include:
Removing wisdom teeth
Corrective surgery for facial deformities
Repair of facial trauma
Cleft lip or cleft palate surgery
Orthognathic surgery (jaw alignment)
Sleep apnea surgery
Some of these procedures are also performed by otolaryngologists or ENTs. There is quite a bit of overlap between the two specialties, and in many cases both will be qualified to perform a specific surgery. In general, oral surgeons are more likely to perform surgeries related to the mouth and jaw, such as wisdom tooth removal or TMJ surgery; whereas ENTs are more likely to handle cancers. However, areas of specialization are truly dependent on the individual physician.
One unusually convenient fact about oral and maxillofacial surgeons is that they are highly trained in the use of sedation and anesthesia, more so than any other doctors except anesthesiologists. This means that they are able to perform surgeries such as the removal of wisdom teeth on an outpatient basis in their office, without the need for an additional anesthesiologist on staff.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons combine surgical expertise with their knowledge of dentistry to provide serious care for the structures of the jaw and face.