Throughout your life, your general dentist is there to help you keep your mouth healthy and answer any questions you have about caring for your teeth and gums. While general dentists can do a lot to help protect your mouth, there may be times when they refer you to a dental specialist for certain types of treatment. For example, if your dentist thinks you need oral or maxillofacial surgery, they'll most likely refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
Who Performs Oral Surgery?
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a dental specialty recognized by the American Dental Association. For a dentist to call themselves an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, they need to complete surgical training in a hospital-based residency for at least four years after finishing dental school, as the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) points out. Their additional training prepares them to perform a range of procedures on the face, mouth and jaw.
Here are some of the surgeries performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons and what you should keep in mind if your dentist recommends one of these treatments.
Common Oral and Maxillofacial Surgical Procedures
Dental ImplantsOne of the most common surgeries performed by oral surgeons is the placement of dental implants. During the procedure, a surgeon places a titanium post into the jawbone and then tops it with a dental crown. The resulting replacement tooth looks and feels like a natural tooth. This surgery has a success rate of approximately 95 percent, notes the AAOMS. Although dentists who aren't surgeons can place implants, the success rate tends to be higher when they're placed by oral surgeons.
Tooth ExtractionTooth extraction is another surgery commonly performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons. Although your general dentist can remove your wisdom teeth or a severely decayed tooth, they might refer you to an oral surgeon if the tooth is deeply impacted or if the procedure appears to be complicated, reports the Mayo Clinic.
Cleft Palate and Lip CorrectionCleft palates and cleft lips are fairly common birth defects. Without treatment, a child with a cleft palate or lip can have difficulty learning to speak or swallowing food. The National Institutes of Health notes that cleft lip surgery is typically performed when a child is 3 to 6 months old, while cleft palate surgery is often performed when a child is 9 to 12 months old. To complete the treatment and restore the appearance and structure of the palate, the child's oral surgeon will likely work with their pediatrician and dentist.
Oral Cancer TreatmentDuring a preventative dental exam, your dentist may check for signs of oral cancer. The typical oral cancer screening may include feeling inside the mouth and around the jaw for any lumps or nodules and visually inspecting the inside of the mouth. If they find an area of tissue that may be cancer, they will refer you to an oral surgeon who will perform a biopsy and determine the next treatment steps, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Jaw SurgeryA misaligned bite or misaligned teeth can often be fixed with orthodontics. In some cases, jaw surgery, aka orthognathic surgery, is performed along with orthodontic treatment to correct the bite, as the AAOMS notes. If you have difficulty chewing or speaking or are concerned with the appearance of your jaw or face, your team of dental professionals will design a treatment plan to correct the position of your jaw.
TMD TreatmentTemporomandibular disorders (TMD) are fairly common, according to the AAOMS. Symptoms of TMD can include headaches, ear pain and difficulty opening the mouth. If other treatments haven't helped, such as medications for pain relief or muscle relaxation, your dental professional may recommend surgery to repair the damaged joint and tissue.
How to Prepare for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Preparing for oral and maxillofacial surgery is similar in many ways to any other type of surgery. Your surgeon will most likely review your anesthesia options with you during a consultation and explain why they recommend one type of anesthesia over the other options, explains the AAOMS. The oral surgeon will also give you specific guidelines on eating and drinking before your surgery.
After the procedure, it's important to follow any instructions given to you and take any medications as prescribed. It's also a good idea to have someone bring you home and stay with you for at least the first night. Your oral surgeon will provide everything you need to know regarding follow-up visits and what you can expect to happen as your mouth heals after the surgery.