Becoming an Oral Surgeon – What Does it Take?
The full title for an oral surgeon is oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Holding degrees as both a dentist and a medical doctor, including a surgical residency, oral surgeons specialize in the maxillofacial region of the body. This includes the bones and connective tissues that comprise the forehead, cheekbones and face, as well as their surrounding soft tissues.
In some cases, they provide relatively minor oral surgery, extracting teeth or designing and placing dental implants. In other cases oral surgeons are called upon to treat malformations of the maxillofacial region as the result of birth defects, or to treat and heal traumatic injuries from sporting injuries or a car accident.
As a result, the same surgeon who removed your wisdom teeth today might have saved the life of an accident victim the day before.
What Does it Take to Become an Oral Surgeon?
First and foremost, sticking to the path to become an oral surgeon requires a tremendous amount of drive, determination and a fierce work ethic. The education and experience required to become an oral surgeon is greater than that required of virtually any other medical profession.
From an academic perspective, as a younger student, oral surgeons typically excelled in math and science courses in high school. Odds are s/he already felt a call to become either a doctor or dentist, even if oral surgery was not yet a part of the plan. As a result, these students have to remain ahead of the pack early on in order to gain acceptance at colleges that have superb science programs.
Post-Graduate Dental Programs
Since post-graduate dental programs require students to have passed several science courses, as well as their typically innate interests in science, most oral surgeons have a science-related, undergraduate degree.
During their senior year of college, prospective oral surgeons must apply to the dental school(s) of their choice. Admittance to these very competitive programs requires a number of prerequisites, as well as stellar transcripts from their undergraduate university. In most cases, students will have completed courses in college-level calculus, biology, physics, and chemistry, including biochemistry and organic chemistry. In addition to having the base knowledge required to continue their education, completing these challenging courses with an A-grade demonstrates to graduate-level admissions counselors that the student can handle the academic rigor expected of them once admitted into a dental program.
Finally, interested candidates must pass the DAT (dental admissions test) before they can commence their education at the dental program to which they’ve been admitted.
The Medical School Program
Once they complete their four-year dental program, prospective oral surgeons can take two different paths.
- Based on the surgical residency list approved by the American Dental Association’s Commission of Dental Accreditation, dentists can apply for a surgical residency. A residency to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon lasts between four and six years, depending on the areas of expertise a surgeon is interested in. These residencies are the same surgical residencies attended by any other type of general or specialty surgeon – but without the medical degree component. At this point, surgeons can take their written and oral exams and, upon completion, they become board certified oral surgeons.
- The second option is to be accepted by one of the several training programs and residencies that provide both medical education and the oral and maxillofacial surgical residency, combined into one program. In most cases, it takes at least six years for oral surgeons to complete both degrees and their surgical residency. As expected, the workload is intense, but afterwards, students graduate with both DDS and MD after their name.
What Work Does an Oral Surgeon Perform?
Oral surgeons work in a variety of facilities, from public clinics and private practice offices, to hospitals, emergency rooms and larger dental practices. Their degrees and skillsets ensure they never get bored because their scope of services is very broad, including things like:
- Repair of cleft palates
- Surgical treatments of TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
- Treating structural abnormalities of the head, face and neck due to birth defects, cancer and/or trauma
- Both minor and major tooth extractions
- Pediatric dental and maxillofacial surgical treatments
- Removal of impacted teeth
- Providing dental implants
- Treatment of oral cancers as well as surgical removal of tumors affecting the maxillofacial areas
- Bone grafting
- Treatment of sleep apnea
- Jaw surgery
- Cosmetic dental procedures
While patients can independently seek treatment from an oral surgeon, most patients are referred to an oral surgeon by their primary dentist, orthodontist and/or physician after an initial diagnosis has been made, particularly if their health insurance carrier will be supplementing or covering the treatment costs.
Interested in Working With a Passionate Oral Surgeon?
The work of an oral surgeon isn’t easy – and the complex nature of the maxillofacial skeletal structure can make for very intricate, long and demanding surgeries. However, most oral surgeons are extremely passionate about what they do, and are grateful for their ability to answer their calling on a daily basis,
That is certainly the case for Dr. Lee Walker and his staff at Los Gatos Oral and Facial Surgery. We care for our patients on both the personal and professional level. We always strive for the least-invasive option of treatment so our patients can enjoy the lowest procedural risk possible.
Would you like your mouth, jaw or face to be treated with the utmost care and expertise? Contact Los Gatos Oral & Facial Surgery and we look forward to making you smile.
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