What is an oral surgeon?
An oral surgeon, also called as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, is a specialist trained in the detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of oral diseases. Aside from the usual dentistry services, oral surgeons also handle facial pain or injuries, broken jaws, dental implants, and removal of wisdom teeth.
An oral surgeon can also perform facial cosmetic surgeries as well as treat oral cancers. It takes four years in dental school and another four years of surgical residency in a hospital to become an oral surgeon. Oral surgeons also undergo training in anesthesia to make the procedures comfortable and painless as much as possible. Local anesthesia can be administered for small repairs while more extensive ones may require general anesthesia.
Conditions Treated by Oral Surgeons
General, dental, and medical practitioners usually refer patients to oral and maxillofacial surgeons when treatment involves major oral conditions or diseases that involve the mouth, jaw, and face. In most cases, oral surgeons work as part of a multidisciplinary team, which involves the collaboration with other specialists, such as ENT (ear nose and throat) doctors or surgeons, oncologists, orthodontists, and plastic and reconstructive surgeons
The following are some of the conditions that can be treated by oral and maxillofacial surgeons:
1. Impacted wisdom teeth
Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt in adults. They are third molars that can be found at the back of your mouth. Impacted wisdom teeth often do not have enough space to normally develop or erupt. In most cases, people have two wisdom teeth on top and two wisdom teeth on the bottom--a total of four wisdom teeth at the back of the mouth.
Impacted wisdom teeth may not cause immediate problems for some people. However, they can also cause pain, dental problems, or damage to other teeth for other people. Since wisdom teeth are hard to clean, they are more prone to decay and gum problems compared with other teeth.
Oral surgeons recommend the removal of impacted wisdom teeth, especially if they cause pain and other dental complications.
2. Dental implants
Dental implants provide a foundation for replacement teeth, which function, feel, and look like your natural teeth. With dental implants, people who have lost some of their teeth are able to eat anything and can smile confidently.
Usually, a restorative dentist and an oral and maxillofacial surgeon work together when it comes to dental implants. Restorative dentists fit as well as make permanent prosthesis while oral surgeons perform the actual surgery, initial tooth extractions, and bone grafting (if necessary).
3. Sleep apnea
Surgery can be an option for people with sleep apnea, especially if nonsurgical methods, such as positive pressure therapy and dental splints fail to work. Surgery usually involves the removal of the soft tissues in the oropharynx or lower jaw. A newer treatment method is also available, which involves the use of a laser (laser surgery).
4. Congenital jaw abnormalities
The function and appearance of the jaw are affected when the development of the upper and lower jaw does not take place properly. Jaw abnormalities may occur due to birth defects. In such cases, the alignment of the jaw can be improved by orthognathic surgery, which is performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
5. Cleft lip and palate repair
Cleft lip and cleft palate are common birth defects that occur when tissues of the lips or mouth fail to form properly during fetal development. These birth defects usually result in a gap or split in the lip or opening in the roof of the mouth.
These problems are often corrected using surgical procedures and a series of treatments. Oral surgeons usually work with other healthcare specialists during the treatment process.
6. Removal of lesion and biopsy
When there are abnormal tissues or growth, a sample will be collected and sent to the laboratory for further testing. Lesions can be removed by oral surgeons while some can be medically managed.
7. Unequal jaw growth
When the upper and lower jaws are unable to develop properly, eating, swallowing, speaking, and breathing can be difficult. Although some of these issues, such as improper alignment of the teeth can be corrected using orthodontic appliances and braces, more serious problems often require surgery to properly position the jaw.
8. Denture fitting and stability
To make sure that dentures are a better fit for first-time wearers, oral surgery can be performed before making the dentures to correct jaw irregularities. Long-term wearers of dentures can also benefit from oral surgery. As time goes by, dentures may no longer fit properly due to the deterioration of the supporting bone. Oral surgeons can add a bone graft in severe cases.
9. Facial injury or trauma
Oral surgeons also treat oral and facial lacerations due to trauma. Facial injuries, such as a dislocated or fractured jaw, are often treated using oral surgery to help reset the jaw.
10. Gum disease
Oral surgery is also a treatment option for gum disease. People with severe gum disease may develop pockets or little holes in their gums, wherein bacteria gather and attack teeth and root structures. If gum disease is left untreated, teeth can fall out and may require more dental procedures to save them.
In most cases, dentists can treat the early stages of gum diseases but may not be experts when it comes to severe gum disease treatment, which often requires gum graft and oral surgery.
11. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
TMJ disorders are a common cause of facial pain and headaches. The temporomandibular joint is a small joint located in front of your ear, particularly where the lower jaw (mandible) and skull (temporal bone) meet.
Treatment for TMJ disorders usually includes a combination of physical therapy, medications, and splints. However, advanced TMJ disorders may require joint surgery, especially when the diagnosis indicates a specific joint problem.
The thought of having an oral surgery may seem frightening, but oral and maxillofacial surgeons are trained and skilled practitioners who include certain methods to help provide patient comfort. For a more relaxed experience, patients can choose from different sedation options aside from the administration of a local anesthetic.