An oral surgeon is essentially a specialist of dentistry who specializes in dealing with diseases and defects of the mouth, head, neck, face, jaws, or oral tissues. They are certainly not to be confused with dental hygienists, who typically come to mind first whenever one thinks of dentistry. Depending on the requirements of the jurisdiction they practice in, these specialists have varying backgrounds in dentistry, surgery, and general medicine. On average, it takes 12-14 years of education to become a full-fledged specialist.
One common situation that an oral surgeon will deal with is wisdom teeth, which are also known as third molars. They are notable for being the last set of teeth to develop. Sometimes, these teeth emerge from the gum line, and the human jaw is big enough to make room for them. That harmonious case doesn’t happen too often in practice, though. More often than not, at least one of these third molars fails to emerge with proper alignment. A specialist can perform a surgical procedure that will prevent future swelling, pain, and infection of the gum tissue that can result from such an anomaly. These wisdom teeth are much better off removed from the mouth before they can do any permanent damage.
Another frequent issue dealt with by an oral surgeon is the natural and artificial loss of teeth. These specialists can install dental implants as an option for tooth loss that happened due to an accident or an infection. They can also provide them as an alternative to dentures. These implants are essentially tooth root substitutes that are surgically anchored in place by the specialist in the jawbone. Once installed, the implants serve to stabilize the artificial teeth to which they are attached. Good candidates for dental implants must have an adequate level of bone density, must not be easily prone to infections, and must be willing to maintain high levels of oral hygiene on a daily basis.
Of course, an oral surgeon can go the dentures route with a patient, if dental implants aren’t a safe option. Before dentures are fitted, the specialist will check the patient’s jaw area to see if the upper and lower jaws have grown properly. If there are irregularities, surgery can be performed to balance the jaw to a point where dentures are functionally possible. After the jaw check, the dentures are fitted, and the specialist will watch the patient closely for the long-term. The bones supporting the dentures are often worn down over time, and the denture wearer might require a bone graft procedure.
One potentially dangerous scenario that many oral surgeons will face is dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (abbreviated as TMJ), which is the small joint in front of the ear where the lower jaw and skull meet. The TMJ is one of the most common sources of chronic headaches and facial pain. Fortunately, the majority of patients with TMJ disorders can be successfully treated with a combination of splints, oral medications, and physical therapy.