Oral and maxillofacial surgery is surgery to correct a wide spectrum of diseases, injuries and defects in the head, neck, face, jaws, and the hard and soft tissues of the oral and maxillofacial region. It is a recognized international surgical specialty, and it is one of the nine specialties of dentistry recognized by the American Dental Association.
Oral Surgeons: Changing Lives with a Smile
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are the only recognized dental specialists who, after completing dental school, are surgically trained in an American Dental Association-accredited hospital-based residency program for a minimum of four years. They train alongside medical residents in internal medicine, general surgery and anesthesiology, and also spend time in otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), plastic surgery, emergency medicine, and other specialty areas. Their training focuses almost exclusively on the hard and soft tissue of the face, mouth, and jaws, and their knowledge and surgical expertise uniquely qualify them to diagnose and treat the functional and aesthetic conditions in this part of the body.
Conditions and Treatments
Your oral and maxillofacial surgeon has many years of education and hands-on training to provide treatment for a wide range of conditions.
Corrective Jaw Surgery
- Corrective jaw or orthognathic surgery is performed in which the upper jaw, lower jaw, and chin may be repositioned to correct minor and major skeletal and dental irregularities, including the misalignment of jaws and teeth which can improve chewing, speaking, and breathing. Difficulty chewing or biting food, excessive wear of teeth, a receding chin, a protruding jaw, or sleep apnea may indicate the need for corrective jaw surgery.
- Wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth to develop. Sometimes they emerge from the gum line, and the jaw is large enough to allow room for them, but more often than not, they fail to emerge and become impacted. When a wisdom tooth is impacted, it may need to be removed. Impacted wisdom teeth that are partially or fully erupted tend to be quite difficult to clean and are susceptible to tooth decay, recurring infections, and even gum disease. The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons strongly recommends that wisdom teeth be removed by the time the patient is a young adult in order to prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing.
Impacted Canine Surgery
The canine or maxillary cuspid (upper eye tooth) is the second most common tooth to become impacted. The cuspid tooth is a critical tooth in the dental arch and plays an important role in your “bite”. The cuspid teeth are very strong biting teeth which have the longest roots of any human teeth. They are designed to be the first teeth that touch when your jaws close together so they guide the rest of the teeth into the proper bite. A impacted canine often will require a procedure performed in the surgeon’s office, to expose the hidden tooth underneath.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate result when all or portions of the mouth and nasal cavity do not grow together properly during fetal development. The result is a gap in the lip or a split in the opening in the roof of the mouth. Until it is treated with surgery, a cleft palate can cause problems with feeding, speech, and hearing. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons work as part of a team of health care specialists to correct these problems through a series of treatments and surgical procedures over many years.
- Maxillofacial injuries or facial trauma encompass any injury to the mouth, face, and jaw. One of the most common types of serious injury to the face occurs when bones are broken. Fractures can involve the lower jaw, upper jaw, palate, cheekbones, eye sockets, or combinations of these bones. These injuries can affect sight and the ability to breathe, speak, and swallow. Because of this, the expertise of the oral and maxillofacial surgeon is indispensable. Avoiding injury is always best, so it is extremely important to use seat belts, protective mouthguards, and appropriate masks and helmets for everyone who participates in athletic pursuits at any level.
Temporomandibular Joint Surgery
- The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet and allows the lower jaw to move and function. If you experience jaw pain, earaches, headaches, a limited ability to open or close your mouth, clicking, or grating sounds, you may have Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). TMJ treatment may range from conservative dental and medical care to complex surgery. If non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is clear joint damage, surgery may be indicated which can involve either arthroscopy or repair of damaged tissue by a direct surgical approach.
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons recommend that everyone perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. If you notice white or red patches, an abnormal lump, chronic sore throat or hoarseness, or difficulty chewing or swallowing, you should contact your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. They will remove a section of tissue to perform a biopsy and accurately diagnose the problem.
- Dental implants are long-term replacements for missing teeth that your oral and maxillofacial surgeon surgically places in the jawbone. Composed of titanium metal that fuses with the jawbone through a process called osseointegration, dental implants never slip and never decay. Because dental implants fuse with the jawbone, bone loss is generally not a problem.
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have the ability to provide patients with safe, effective outpatient anesthesia including local anesthesia, nitrous oxide, IV sedation, and general anesthesia. During their surgical residency, residents must complete a rotation on the medical anesthesiology service where they become competent in evaluating patients for anesthesia, delivering the anesthetic, and monitoring post-anesthetic patients.