What is Oral Surgery?

Oral Surgery is the branch of dentistry dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of disorder, disease, injury and defect of “maxillofacial” structure.  Maxillofacial can be defined by breaking the word into two parts, “maxillo” meaning maxilla or jaw bones and “facial” meaning the structure of the face.  A maxillofacial surgeon is an expert in the surgical treatment of the jaw, facial bones, teeth and surrounding soft-tissues.  Oral & maxillofacial surgeons care for a variety of conditions that include  problematic, lost or missing  teeth, TMJ/facial pain, malalignment of the jaws, cysts and tumors, cleft lip & palate, and facial fractures suffered by accidents

Extensive training is required to become an Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon.  It requires specialized training in pain control and anesthesia that allows maximum patient comfort.  As a part of any oral surgeons training they are required to be a anesthesia resident for a minimum of 4-6 months, in an accredited anesthesia residency.  This is where most oral surgeons learn the art of sedation and how to make patients comfortable during their surgical procedure.

An Oral Surgeon must typically complete four years of undergraduate study, with a heavy emphasis in the biological sciences, i.e. biology & chemistry.  Then after graduating with a BS (Bachelor of Science), most will go straight into four more years of dental school.  The first two years of the dental school mirrors most medical school curriculums, with some dental schools even having both their medical and dental students in the same classroom.  Of course with the dental students there is more emphasis on the head & neck area.  Then after the first two years, the “Clinical exercises” are preformed during the 3rd and 4th years of dental school.  This is where dental student start to work on actual patients.  This is in contrast to medical students, where very little clinical exercises are done in their rotations in the the 3rd & 4th years of medical school.  Upon completion of dental school curriculum, each dental student must pass the two national written exam and then one clinical exam (on live patients) to become a licensed DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine).  Then each state or region has its own requirements and tests that are needed before they allow dentists to practice in their state.  This is typically another set of exams, after the national exams, that varies from state to state.

It is in the 4th of year of dental school that some students decide to further their training and specialize in a field of interest, i.e. a pediatric dentist (Pedodontist), oral surgery and so on.  In order to become a specialist in Oral Surgery an additional 4 to 6  year residency.   The difference between the 4 & 6 year program:  The 6 year program involves attending medical school as a full-time student and passing all the national boards and exams required of all medical doctors.  This includes all three USMLE exams and the required state exams.  So all in all by the time and oral surgeon is finished, they have taken over 10 national exams and boards!  Additionally the 6 year programs require all residents to do one year of PGYI in general surgery, where as an oral surgeon you are required to do anything from orthopaedic surgery to neurosurgery, to surgical oncology and general surgery.

Then for the super over-achievers, one can even further their oral surgery training and subspecialize in such things as surgical oncology, cosmetic surgery, implant dentistry by doing a fellowship or partaking in a variety of other masters programs such as MBA, PhD, MPH, MEd and so on.

Lastly, some oral surgeons elect to become “Board Certified”, where they are required to pass another written test, followed by an eight hour oral exam before their peers.  This is not a requirement but highly sought after by most oral surgeons.

So as you can see, to keep a valid license an Oral Surgeon must endure strict and rigorous continuing education requirements.  Most oral surgeons that have attended both dental and medical school, have to maintain active licenses in both fields and a minimum number of hours educating themselves throughout their lives, via “Continuing Education”, i.e. “CE” courses.  For instance in the state of California, each medical doctor is required by the Medical Board to attend a minimum of 25 hours of CE’s each year.  This is in addition to the California Dental Board (CDA) requirement of 25 hours.  So all in all each surgeon spends 50 hours each year to improve their skills and to keep up with the ever-increasing body of knowledge.

All of the doctors at SFSA are Board Certified Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons and some with even have further fellowship-training in facial cosmetic surgery.  Please click here for details on the education and training of the doctors of San Francisco Surgical Arts.

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