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Oral Surgeon


Anyone who has ever been in an accident that knocked their teeth out or who has had their wisdom teeth removed has likely been a patient of an oral surgeon. Oral surgeons, also called maxillofacial surgeons, are experts in the surgical treatment of the jaw, face, teeth and associated structures. Maxillofacial surgery is the medical side of this profession and deals with the jaw, facial bones and with surgery needed to remove cancer.

Oral surgery is that branch and specialty of dentistry that is concerned with and includes the diagnosis, surgical and adjunctive treatment of disorders, diseases, injuries and defects involving both the functional and aesthetic aspects of the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial regions and related structures.

Oral surgeons care for patients who experience such conditions as problems with wisdom teeth, facial pain, and misaligned jaws. They treat accident victims suffering facial injuries, offer reconstructive and dental implant surgery, and care for patients with tumors and cysts of the jaws and functional and aesthetic conditions of the maxillofacial areas. With specialized knowledge in pain control and advanced training in anesthesia, the oral surgeon is able to provide quality care with maximum patient comfort and safety in the office setting.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons also correct facial deformities such as cleft palates. They also do surgery on the face and neck of cancer patients to remove tumors. Working with people that have facial deformities and tumors, their goal is to help them rid of an illness, feel better and even look better. Therefore, there are large medical and cosmetic components involved in this profession.

Treatment of these conditions includes management of congenital facial anomalies such as jaw deformities related to cleft lip and palates and abnormal growth of facial bones. It also encompasses tooth extractions, treatment for traumatic injuries to the face and jaws, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, pathology, and reconstruction of portions of the facial bones missing as a result of trauma or surgery to remove abnormal conditions. Pre-prosthetic surgery and implant surgery at the advanced level are also within the scope of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Oral surgeons work in close cooperation with general dentists, physicians, and other specialities. Many find the opportunity for collaboration with peers a stimulating plus. Oral surgeons recognize that educating patients about the procedures they perform is a critical element in providing the highest quality patient care.
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  Interests and Skills  
Oral surgeons must have good health, eyesight, and good finger and manual dexterity. They must have a gentle, delicate touch and a good degree of mechanical aptitude and ability. They require great interpersonal skills, and can communicate with all of their patients, trying to make them feel more comfortable. They also have the ability to understand and handle many different types and ages of people. Successful oral surgeons enjoy doing precise work with tools and equipment, and helping people treat diseases of the mouth.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with patients about their teeth, gums, necks, facial features and surrounding tissue to plan appropriate surgical treatment
  • Educate patients to help to prevent dental diseases
  • Restore, extract and replace diseased and decayed teeth
  • Perform oral surgery and other maxillofacial treatments
  • Perform corrective work such as straightening teeth
  • Supervise dental technicians, dental assistants and other staff
  • Most oral surgeons work eight-hour days during the week, but in order to meet patient time constraints, some may also work weekends and evenings. An on-call schedule is a necessary aspect of this specialty. Trauma and other emergency situations necessitate prompt emergency care by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Oral surgery is a high stress occupation due to working with people who are in pain and are often afraid of them.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most oral surgeons work in clinical settings, such as hospitals, dental clinics, outpatient surgical centers, public health facilities, universities or own their own private practices. Directly upon graduation, they may engage in private practice, however, these days, partnerships with established dental practitioners and group practices are becoming increasingly popular. Better opportunities exist in smaller towns and city centers where the market has yet to be saturated. Some oral surgeons work for government health services.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A broad range of career options is available including private practice, hospital practice, teaching, and research. Otherwise, since it takes so many years of school to become an oral surgeon, once established, they usually stay within the industry and move into more supervisory positions. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are usually affiliated with local and regional hospitals.

  Educational Paths  
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have a long educational road ahead of them from the high school level (anywhere from 10 to 14 years of school). They are required have a bachelor of science degree, or at least two years of undergraduate education along with passing an entrance exam to dental school. The next step is to obtain a degree from a recognized dental program. Then oral surgeons must take a four-year program in oral surgery to receive a certificate and/or master's degree in oral surgery upon completion of the program. An additional two to four years may be spent obtaining a joint MD or a PhD degree depending on individual career goals.

Oral surgeons must be licensed to practice dentistry and oral surgery. Each region has a licensing body that establishes regulations and requirements for the licensure of general practitioners and specialists within the jurisdiction. Contact the regulatory authority in your jurisdiction to obtain detailed information about licensure, registration, and fees.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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