If you have had your wisdom teeth removed or had dental implants, chances are you worked with an oral surgeon. Oral surgeons, or oral and maxillofacial surgeons, specialize in maxillofacial areas and oral cavity issues. As with all surgeons, they require many years of specialized education and, in some cases, include a medical and dental degree.
At Soundview Family Dental, we want our patients to understand what it takes to become an oral surgeon and its specialization to perform your surgical care. We also hope to spark some interest in our younger patients, paving the way for new, highly skilled oral surgeons.
What is an oral surgeon?
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are specialized dental professionals that treat medical and dental issues in the maxillofacial areas of the mouth, face, and oral cavity. Because this can include complex medical and dental procedures, most oral surgeons hold dental and medical degrees to provide patients with the expertise they need.
What does an oral surgeon do?
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform various responsibilities ranging from patient education to complex procedures and surgeries. These can include:
Educating patients and their families about exams, results, and the necessary procedures:
- Performing patient exams to evaluate symptoms and how the condition may be affecting their overall health
- Working together with surgical teams to provide the best patient care
- Removing impacted and damaged teeth, such as wisdom teeth
- Placing dental implants, including bone grafts when necessary
- Evaluating and treating patients with TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder
- Treating infections or disorders that affect the jaw, neck, salivary glands, and oral cavity
- Performing jaw realignment surgery due to disorders or trauma
- Performing cosmetic facial procedures, such as cheekbone or chin enhancements
- Reconstructing areas of the face, mouth, neck, and jaw after traumatic injuries, infections, or other medical conditions
- Treating conditions such as cleft palate and other structural abnormalities
- Treatment of oral cancers
- Surgical treatments for sleep apnea
How to become a dental surgeon
For those considering a career as a dental surgeon, there are some things to consider. Because the education required of a dental surgeon exceeds that of even some medical professionals, following this career path requires determination and a strong work ethic. Strength in subjects such as math and science is essential. Typical education for an oral surgeon is described below.
The first step to becoming an oral surgeon begins with completing a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in sciences, such as biology, anatomy, microbiology, chemistry, and mathematics. In many cases, students follow pre-med studies for their undergraduate studies and degree.
Applying to dental school
During the senior year of your undergraduate work, you must take and pass the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). This test evaluates your abilities in science and things like logical reasoning, comprehension, and mathematical skills. Passing this exam is required before you can apply to and attend your desired dental school.
Dental education programs take up to four years to complete. Your focus will be on general dentistry and will include internships where you will work with dental patients, applying the skills you have learned. At the end of this education process, you will achieve your Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree. However, in order to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you must continue into a residency program.
Once you complete your DDS or DDM, you are eligible for a general dentistry license. While licensing requirements vary by state, they all require the passage of skills assessment examinations. Entrance into oral surgeon residency programs often requires general dentistry licensing before admittance.
Residency and board certification
At this point, there are two different paths you can take. The American Dental Association’s Commission of Dental Accreditation has a list of approved residency programs that last between four and six years, depending on the area of expertise you are interested in. These specific programs are surgical specialties but without the medical degree component.
Your second option is to apply to a residency program that combines both oral surgery residency with medical education. While this takes at least six years to complete and the workload can be intense, you will graduate from this program with an MD after your name as well.
How long does it take to become an oral surgeon?
The time it takes to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon depends on the course of education you decide to take. Your undergraduate degree typically takes four years, while dental school takes another four years. Residency can take anywhere from four to six years, depending on if you choose to add an MD to your title. In all, becoming an oral surgeon can take from 12-14 years to complete training and licensing.
Our passionate oral surgeon is ready to work with you
Whether you are reading this because you are interested in a career as an oral surgeon or need oral surgery and want more information, the team at Soundview Family Dental is here to answer your questions. Like our own Dr. Kitts, oral surgeons are passionate about what they do and strive to provide the best care to all their patients. To learn more about oral surgery, contact us online today or call the office at (425) 563-6360 and schedule an appointment.