What Does an Oral Surgeon Do?


Most Americans are familiar with what dentists do thanks to regular visits to get their teeth cleaned and periodic work to take care of such issues as cavities, crowns, and root canals.

And if you have children, then you are likely familiar with orthodontists, those dental specialists best known for fixing smiles with braces.

When it comes to dentistry, however, some super specialists are just getting started with their training when they graduate dental school: oral surgeons like the board-certified doctors at Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.

“Both a general dentist and oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS) attend dental school, but oral and maxillofacial surgeons have additional specialty training beyond dental school: at least 4 years in a hospital-based surgical residency program to learn to treat not just the teeth, but the jaw and facial areas around the mouth, with oral and maxillofacial surgery,” explains the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS).

All this training makes oral surgeons experts in face, mouth, and jaw surgery, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS).

“Oral and maxillofacial surgeons (OMS) are the only dental specialists recognized by the American Dental Association surgically trained in a hospital-based residency program for a minimum of four years,” says AAOMS. “Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have knowledge and expertise that uniquely qualifies them to diagnose and treat a number of functional and esthetic conditions in this anatomical area. Many OMS are board-certified, seek further degrees or complete fellowships for a subspecialty.”

Oral Surgeons Undergo Years of Training

To understand what an oral surgeon does, it is best to examine the training they undergo.

ABOMS says that oral surgeons' training includes:

  • Anesthesia training.
  • Training in general surgery, plastic surgery, internal medicine, critical care medicine, and pathology.
  • Hands-on training for treating patients in hospital settings, outpatient surgery centers, ambulatory surgery facilities, and private offices.
  • Some OMS also complete medical school; however, a medical degree is not required to successfully become a practicing oral surgeon.

“OMS residents train alongside medical residents in internal medicine, general surgery and anesthesiology, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), plastic surgery, emergency medicine, and other medical specialty areas,” says AAOMS. “This training focuses almost exclusively on the bone, skin, and muscle of the face, mouth, and jaws, in addition to the administration of anesthesia.”

What Procedures Can Oral Surgeons Perform?

While most patients become familiar with an oral surgeon when they have their wisdom teeth removed, these doctors can perform a variety of other procedures, according to AAOMS and ABOMS:

  • Anesthesia: Oral surgeons are uniquely qualified to administer anesthesia because of their extensive education, training, and clinical experience. Some of the surgical procedures prescribed by the doctors at Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery require the use of IV anesthesia to sedate and relax, as well as relieve pain for patients.
  • Complex Tooth Extractions: Sometimes it is necessary to remove teeth that are crowded, diseased beyond restoration, or supernumerary (extra teeth). Sometimes this includes work with the underlying bone.
  • Dental Implants: Oral surgeons offer the latest techniques and innovations for dental implants which can be the best solution for missing teeth. These artificial tooth roots and foundation for replacement teeth or bridges are often titanium posts. The implant is placed into your jaw by the oral surgeon, a procedure that can be done in-office under IV sedation.
  • Oral, Head, and Neck Pathology: Oral surgeons can diagnose and surgically treat pathology, both benign and malignant (cancerous) in the head, neck, and mouth region. Often patients will be referred to Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery by dentists who spot abnormalities during routine cancer screening at dental check-ups.
  • Pre-prosthetic Surgery: Before a patient is fitted with prosthetics (dentures) or undergoes orthodontic procedures they may be referred to an oral surgeon for the removal of excess bone and gum tissues, work on the bone ridge, or other areas. Oral surgeons can perform bone grafting – facilitating the growth of bone – to help patients become candidates for dental implants.
  • Orthodontic Surgery: Oral surgery in coordination with Orthodontic treatment is a routine scenario, usually consisting of procedures such as exposure of unerupted teeth and placement of a ligation device or lunation of a malpositioned tooth to aid in proper tooth eruption into the mouth.
  • Facial Injury/Trauma Surgery: Oral surgeons have hands-on experience and understanding of how to treat injuries to the face. Facial injury often requires emergency treatment, acute care, and long-term reconstruction and rehabilitation. Facial injuries can be classified as soft tissue injuries (skin, cheek, and gums), bone injuries (fractures), or injuries to special regions such as the eyes, facial nerves, or the salivary glands.
  • TMJ and Facial Pain: Oral surgeons can treat TMJ disorders resulting from jaw misalignment, teeth grinding, stress, or arthritis. Besides TMJ, other jaw and facial pain may be a result of dental abscess, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, sinusitis, trigeminal neuralgia, and other conditions that your oral surgeon can help diagnose and treat.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Oral surgeons can diagnose and treat sleep apnea, a condition suffered by millions of Americans that can be serious. Surgical options include:

o   Mouth, throat, and windpipe surgeries, including upper airway surgery, tonsillectomy, and tracheotomy.

o   Jaw surgery.

o   Tongue surgeries including genioglossus advancement, midline glossectomy, and hyoid suspension.

o   Nasal surgeries including rhinoplasty, septoplasty, endoscopic sinus surgery, nasal valve surgery, and turbinate surgery.

o   Never stimulation surgeries including hypoglossal nerve stimulation, and transvenous phrenic nerve stimulation.

  • Facial Cosmetic Surgery: AAOMS says that “thanks to their surgical and dental background, oral and maxillofacial surgeons are well qualified to perform cosmetic procedures involving the functional and esthetic aspects of the face, mouth, teeth, and jaws. Extensive education and training in surgical procedures involving skin, muscle, bone, and cartilage finely attune the oral and maxillofacial surgeon to the need for harmony between facial appearance and function.
  • Cleft Lip/Palate and Craniofacial Surgery: Oral surgeons can help restore jaw and facial structures, leading to normal function and appearance, for cleft lip and palate patients.


ABOMS says that the more complex an oral surgery that is needed, the more likely an oral surgeon will have the extensive experience to safely perform the procedure.

“Having completed surgical residency training, OMS tend to perform complex surgical procedures more frequently than a general dentist,” says ABOMS.

AAOMS says that when it comes to complicated procedures such as removing wisdom teeth and placing dental implants, a patient should visit an OMS.

Contact the board-certified oral surgeons at Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery today for comprehensive care of problems and pain in your face, mouth, and jaw area.

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