A general dentist is like a primary care provider. They can diagnose and treat common dental conditions and manage your overall oral health. General dentists perform common procedures like fillings, gum care, crowns, bridges, veneers, root canals, and preventive care. However, some dental problems require more complex surgical treatment. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a specialist who performs surgical procedures on the face, mouth, and jaw. Continue reading to learn more about this specialty, including the kinds of problems you might need to see an oral surgeon for and how you can go about finding one.
Are oral surgeons dentists?
Oral surgeons are dentists who undergo an additional 4-8 years of specialty training after dental school. This additional training is imparted in a hospital-based surgical environment. In the United States, oral surgeons are board-certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery after passing qualifying examinations. 1
What does an oral surgeon do?
Oral surgeons are trained to perform complex surgeries on the intricate structures of the oral cavity and face. They often treat accident victims who have suffered facial trauma and require reconstructive surgery. Other types of procedures that oral surgeons commonly perform include:
- Dental implant placement
- Complex tooth extractions
- Removal of impacted teeth (for example, wisdom teeth)
- Diagnosis and treatment of facial pain caused by the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Surgical removal of cysts or tumors of the mouth and face
- Soft tissue biopsies
- Orthognathic surgery (corrective jaw surgery for problems with breathing, talking or chewing)
- Jaw realignment surgeries for overbite or underbite
- Repair of facial bone fractures
- Cleft palate or cleft lip repair
Why did my dentist refer me to an oral surgeon?
Many common dental procedures can be safely and comfortably performed in your local dentist’s office. However, your dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon for more complex dental treatments involving surgery. As noted, oral surgeons receive additional extensive training in surgical procedures after finishing dental school. They are, therefore, better qualified to treat complex issues of the face, mouth, and jaw. Also, some procedures require general anesthesia, which may not be possible at a general dentist’s office. Oral surgeons are also able to offer better pain management options, including IV sedation.
Common types of oral surgeries
Any mention of dental surgery can make a person start to panic. However, the truth is that in the hands of an experienced oral surgeon, most dental surgical procedures are safe and comfortable. Also, many minor dental surgeries are done on an outpatient basis and there is no need to spend a night in the hospital. Here is a brief overview of some of the common types of surgeries performed by oral surgeons and what you can expect if they are recommended to you.
If youhave lost one or more teeth, especially in a visible location, your dentist may recommend replacing the natural (lost) tooth with a dental implant. A dental implant is an artificial metallic screw-like replacement for the tooth root. 2
Dental implant surgery is time-consuming. It often takes several months and multiple visits to the oral surgeon’s office. This is because the surgeon has to first remove the damaged tooth. They must then implant a “post” in the jawbone for each tooth that needs to be replaced. In people with poor bone structure, it may also be necessary to support the post with a bone graft.
This is followed by a period of waiting for several months to allow the bone to grow around the implant and heal (this is called osseointegration). Next, the oral surgeon places an abutment (a piece where the crown will attach). This is a minor surgery that is done under local anesthesia as an outpatient procedure. The last step in dental implant placement is putting in the artificial tooth, which looks and functions like a natural tooth.
A root canal is a treatment that is performed to eliminate bacteria from the pulp (inside) of a tooth. It is a quick, comfortable treatment that can save your natural tooth. The procedure involves removing the infected pulp, disinfecting the inside of the tooth, and then filling and sealing it. 3 Uncomplicated root canals can be performed in a dentist’s office.
However, sometimes the root of the tooth is hooked or curved at the bottom. This prevents the cleaning instruments from reaching the very tip of the root, thereby leaving infected pulp behind. If this is the case, the patient may be referred to an oral surgeon for a procedure known as an apicoectomy, during which the surgeon removes the tip of the root and fills the space with inert material. The use of a local anesthetic makes the procedure comfortable. However, it is not unusual for patients to have some slight swelling and discomfort while the area heals.
Impacted wisdom tooth removal
Wisdom teeth are molars that emerge in the corners of the mouth during the adolescent or early adult years. In some people, the wisdom teeth emerge without problems and provide additional chewing power. However, sometimes the wisdom teeth don’t come in properly and need to be removed due to crowding, pain, swelling, or infection. 4
Wisdom tooth extraction is a simple procedure that is done under local anesthesia and light sedation in a dentist’s office. Most people recover in a few days with little to no discomfort. But some wisdom teeth are more difficult to remove because of a physical barrier (the adjoining tooth is blocking the wisdom tooth) or because the wisdom tooth itself is not straight (it is angled away from a vertical position). Such a wisdom tooth extraction may need to be performed by a specialist such as an oral surgeon.
Surgery for obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious health condition in which a person involuntarily stops breathing for short periods of time while asleep. A common symptom of OSA is loud snoring. The problem occurs because the throat muscles relax and block the airway. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to a host of problems, including daytime fatigue and sleepiness as well as cardiovascular complications due to a drop in blood oxygen levels. 5
Treatment for OSA includes lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight if you’re overweight). Positive airway pressure therapies such as CPAP and oral devices are effective non-invasive treatments for obstructive sleep apnea.
However, in some patients, non-surgical treatments are not effective. Such individuals with OSA may require surgical removal of the tissue in the back of the mouth and throat by an oral surgeon. The procedure is called an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty (UPPP). An oral surgeon may also recommend another type of surgery called maxillomandibular advancement in which the lower part of the jaw is moved forward to enlarge the space at the back of the mouth and reduce the amount of obstruction.
What about insurance coverage? Is oral surgery a medical or dental procedure?
Oral surgery can be both a medical and a dental procedure. Some oral surgeries are performed to correct specific dental problems, for example, dental implant placement or abscessed tooth removal. In this case, the surgery will likely be covered by your dental insurance.
On the other hand, some oral surgeries are medically necessary. For example, if a patient is unable to chew and eat properly due to tooth problems, this directly interferes with their nutrition and quality of life. In this case, a surgery to fix the problem may qualify for coverage under your medical insurance. Oral surgeries for congenital deformities like cleft lip and cleft palate, reconstructive surgery after facial trauma, tumor removal from the oral cavity, and corrective jaw surgeries are typically covered by medical insurance.
How do I find an oral surgeon near me?
If you need care from an oral surgeon, your dentist will refer you to one. However, you may need to find an oral surgeon if you want a second opinion.
Express Dentist is a 24/7 free hotline that makes it easy to find an oral surgeon in your area. We have partnered with leading oral surgeons nationwide so you can get the care you need without delay. Our partner providers offer appointments during regular clinic hours as well as emergency dental care in the evenings and on weekends. All you have to do is call 1-844-593-0591 and speak to a top-rated oral surgeon in your area. All calls to Express Dentist are free and services are available throughout the day and night, 7 days a week.
Our goal at Express Dentist is to bring you affordable, high-quality dental care. Each of our partner providers is carefully vetted to ensure you receive only the best oral care from accredited providers.
If you have complex dental problems that need evaluation and treatment from an oral surgeon, call the Express Dentist hotline today on 1-844-593-0591 for same-day dental appointments and emergency dental treatment.
About the author
Dr. Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.
As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.
- American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Become Certified. Available online. Accessed on May 26, 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. Dental Implant Surgery. Available online. Accessed on May 26, 2021.
- American Association of Endodontists. What is a Root Canal? Available online. Accessed on May 26, 2021.
- American Dental Association. Wisdom Teeth. Available online. Accessed on May 26, 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Available online. Accessed on May 26, 2021.