What an oral surgeon does

An oral or maxillofacial surgeon performs dental surgeries related to issues and diseases of the gums, teeth and mouth. In some cases, these issues are cosmetic and require reconstructive surgery or tooth replacement.

This specialty is recognized and accredited by the American Dental Association after completion of dental school and a hospital-based residency for at least four consecutive years.

This includes specialized training in general surgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) and plastic surgery. During this training, the specialist studies soft and hard bone tissue ailments of the face, jaw and entire mouth area.

Types of surgeries that require the expertise of an oral surgeon may include facial cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, facial trauma, correction of skeletal deformities, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgery, treatment of oral cancer and head, neck and craniofacial surgeries.

Initially, your family doctor or dentist may make a referral to a surgeon. A dental surgeon can perform more complex procedures than a dentist who holds only a doctorate of medical dentistry. This type of surgeon has the expertise, tools and equipment to handle more advanced cases of dental health problems.

The surgeon and his staff are often better equipped than your dentist to place you under general anesthesia for longer periods of time, due to training and advanced medical equipment.

You most likely will not have to see a dental surgeon routinely. He or she will likely recommend for you to follow up with regular checkups with your family dentist.

Seeing a dental surgeon

An oral surgeon often removes impacted wisdom teeth or third molars. These teeth often erupt normally in adolescence or early adulthood. In many cases, they don't fit in the space behind the back molars and become impacted or misaligned behind the surface of the gum line. When this happens, redness, irritation and pain occurs. If left untreated, infection can develop as well as cyst or tumor formation that will affect the gums and surrounding teeth. Removal is necessary and often performed under local or general anesthesia in the dental surgeon's office.

Misaligned jaws, temporomandibular disorders and damage caused by an accident or injury may require extensive surgery by a trained oral surgeon and surgical team. Jaw restructuring and corrective jaw surgery will help realign the facial bones and joints and restore the area back to a normal position.

Cosmetic surgery such as partials, dental implants, tooth replacement, dentures or veneers may help improve your appearance after you have lost teeth due to accident or advanced gum disease.

Your dentist may refer a diagnosis of oral cancer to a surgeon for treatment. The surgeon can often perform a more advanced exam and biopsy of the affected area and remove tissue and bone that has been affected by cancer.

If you have sleep apnea, visiting your dental surgeon may help. He or she can use radio frequency waves to help shrink tissue in the throat and reduce sleep apnea symptoms. Uvuloplasty removes the uvula and some of the surrounding tissue to help open the airway and reduce symptoms.

Care from an oral surgeon can reap several benefits including relief of major discomfort caused from tooth, gum and jaw pain. Long-term benefits include teeth and jaw structure that support eating and swallowing without fear of choking or major discomfort. Removal of unsightly decayed teeth will let you enjoy a new partial or cosmetic veneer that restores and improves both physical and psychological health. Restructuring of your jaw or inside gums and palette will help prevent further oral health problems in the future. Removal of precancerous lesions or seeking treatment for areas inside your mouth that are affected by oral cancer will allow you to live a healthy lifestyle and continue to maintain good oral hygiene.

Choosing an oral surgeon

If you know that you need the services of an oral surgeon, contact your health insurance company to make sure this dental specialist is covered by your health plan. Depending on your policy, you may need a referral from your general dentist.

Read through the listing of dentists in the provider directory available from your health insurance company. Begin by carefully researching the dentist you are considering, whether it is a referral or someone you have found on your own. Verify their qualifications, education and continuing education by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings. 

For the surgical procedure, check the price in your area with Healthcare Blue Book, a free online guide that lists fair prices for healthcare services. The fair price is what a health service provider typically allows from insurance companies as full payment, which is substantially less than the billed amount.

When you need a root canal

Sometimes the pain or infection in a tooth can only be overcome by a root canal. Endodontists are specially trained to perform the surgery. For more information, read Angie’s List Guide to the Endodontics/Root Canal.

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