What does an Oral Surgeon do?

Amanda Barnhart

Oral surgeons, also called maxillofacial surgeons, perform many different dental procedures to correct problems with the teeth, gums, jaw, and face. While dentists perform many procedures, oral surgeons generally handle those that are more complex, such as facial reconstruction, oral birth defects, bone grafts, and removal of impacted teeth.

An oral surgeon can perform surgeries to install dental implants.
An oral surgeon can perform surgeries to install dental implants.

People who have suffered facial injuries, or have facial deformities due to medical conditions, often see an oral surgeon to help reconstruct the mouth and face. Many of these surgeons also practice plastic surgery to help people who need to correct facial problems. Cleft lip and palette are common birth defects that oral surgeons can repair, or minimize.

An oral surgeon must complete 4 years of dental school.
An oral surgeon must complete 4 years of dental school.

Impacted wisdom teeth are very common. An oral surgeon can remove them surgically to prevent damage to the jaw, gums, and other teeth. It is possible for other teeth to also become impacted, or damaged so severely that they must be removed. Oral surgeons often replace such teeth with dental implants to prevent other teeth from shifting, and to preserve the look of a full set of teeth. Dental implants usually consist of a synthetic tooth attached to a screw that is placed in the jaw.

One of the duties performed by oral surgeons is the removal of impacted teeth.
One of the duties performed by oral surgeons is the removal of impacted teeth.

Some individuals suffer from jaw problems that an oral surgeon can correct. Mismatched or unequal jaw length can lead to problems eating and speaking. Jaw irregularities can lead to discomfort and poor fit for denture wearers. People who suffer from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders often experience intense head and facial pain from the condition. Oral surgeons can reconstruct the jaw to help alleviate many of these problems.

Oral surgeons often help people stop snoring.
Oral surgeons often help people stop snoring.

Oral surgeons can often help people eliminate snoring and sleep apnea through surgical procedures. Laser surgery can be used to scar the oropharynx in the back of the mouth, to tighten it and help reduce night-time breathing problems or obstruction. Laser techniques can also remove excess tissue from the palette to help stop snoring and interruptions in breathing patterns during sleep.

Infections in the neck, face, and mouth can lead to severe medical problems, some of which are life-threatening. An oral surgeon can often remove infected tissue to reduce the risk of further problems. People who suffer from oral or facial cancerous growths often benefit from oral surgery as well.

In the United States, an individual must graduate from dental school and take additional courses in surgery, anesthesia, and pathology to become an oral surgeon. The American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery certifies oral surgeons, in the United States, who complete an application and examination process. Board-certified oral surgeons must complete continuing education courses to maintain certification.

Oral surgeons can often help people eliminate snoring and sleep apnea through surgical procedures.
Oral surgeons can often help people eliminate snoring and sleep apnea through surgical procedures.

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Discussion Comments


I always thought it would be a lot of fun to be an oral surgeon for some reason. I have always been interested in medical things, but I don't think I would want to be a regular doctor. It seems like being a surgeon would give you a lot more challenges.

I suppose if you were an oral surgeon, though, things could get kind of boring. I would assume that a lot of their work is doing things like taking out wisdom teeth or other teeth that a regular dentist isn't able to do. Any type of surgeon could have that problem, though. I'm sure there are some heart surgeons who get tired of doing triple bypasses.

Since mouths are so different, though, I am sure there are a lot of interesting cases that end up passing through an oral surgeon's office.


@jmc88 - I agree. No matter what type of major medical work you are getting done, it's always a good idea to see more than one person and hear different options.

I know that there are a lot of organizations that hire oral surgeons to work overseas correcting dental problems. Apparently cleft palates are much more common in Asian than they are in other parts of the world. There are a lot of groups who send doctors over to fix those types of problems.

I have never personally known anyone to do this, but I have heard that the people who agree to go overseas can make a lot of money. It seems counter-intuitive, since they are working for a non-profit group, but the surgeons have to live away from their homes for a while, and are put under a lot of stressful circumstances. I think supplies are usually limited, and some of the areas can be dangerous.


@stl156 - I think a lot of it would depend on what was causing the sleep apnea or snoring. If it was something to do with the tongue, maybe an oral surgeon would be more capable of handling it.

My only suggestion if you are trying to find an oral surgeon is to always get a second opinion if you need some sort of major work done. I know that some people are constrained by what their insurance can cover. In other cases, the final cost with insurance will be the same no matter what dentist you go to.

A couple of years ago, though, my son was having a problem with the way his teeth were coming in. The problem wasn't something that our normal dentist could handle, so he gave us a referral to his suggested oral surgeon. We had him take a look, and he quoted a huge price. It was much more than what we had expected for what the dentist had said was wrong. In the end, we got a second opinion from another surgeon, and he talked with us about other options for correcting the problem, which saved us a lot of money in the end.


@dfoster85 - I guess I never thought about regular dentists not being able to use anesthesia. Luckily, I still have my wisdom teeth, and I have never had to go to an oral surgeon for anything. I definitely wouldn't want to have to deal with being awake while they were pulling an impacted tooth, though.

I was also unaware that oral surgeons where the ones who dealt with sleep apnea and those types of problems. I figured that was something more along the lines of what an ears, noses, and throat doctor would deal with. I am guessing that oral surgeons get a lot of specialized training in those types of things, though, so they can deal with special cases.


@andee - Does your dentist remove wisdom teeth if they are erupted but still need to be pulled?

My husband had his teeth out by our dentist, but they had erupted. The dentist wanted to use IV sedation, but our insurance would not cover it, so my poor husband just used Novocaine!

I think I've heard of people having their wisdom teeth out even if they are impacted, but I'm not sure. Personally, I knew I wanted to find an oral surgeon for my impacted teeth. Dentists can do a lot for pain these days, but they can't do general anesthesia. And I wanted noooo part of remembering or being aware of my surgery!


I am most familiar with someone using an oral surgeon to remove wisdom teeth. I am curious if anyone has used one to help alleviate snoring and sleep apnea?

I have trouble with both of these and would love to find something that would help.


I have a friend who was born with a cleft lip and had several trips to a dental oral surgeon when he was younger. I think it is amazing what they can do with situations like this.

This was several years ago when he had his surgeries done, and they have made a big difference in his face and mouth. I think the technology today is even better, and if someone had surgery for this today, it would be hard to tell if anything was ever wrong.


My husband goes to a dentist who will remove wisdom teeth in his office even though he isn't an oral dental surgeon. He will refer someone to an oral surgeon only if it is a difficult case.

This dentist removed the wisdom teeth on one side and everything went just fine. When he went back to have the other side done, he was unable to get one of the wisdom teeth out.

He was not able to finish the procedure and fortunately my husband was able to get into an oral surgeon that same morning. The oral surgeon told him on a scale of 1 to 10, removing that tooth was a rating of 10!


The only time I have been to an oral surgeon was to have my wisdom teeth removed. My dentist doesn't remove wisdom teeth and automatically refers everyone to an oral surgeon to have this done.

My wisdom teeth were impacted, and was something I should have had done much sooner than I did. One nice thing about it was I didn't have to worry about how to find an oral surgeon, as my dentist had one that he recommended and referred people to all the time.

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