How To Become an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 15, 2021

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have specialized knowledge in both medical practice and dental surgery. Unlike general dentists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons must hold both a medical and dental degree to practice in their field. If you're interested in becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, there are several factors to consider. In this article, we'll explore what oral and maxillofacial surgeons are, what they do and how to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with several tips and frequently asked questions about the role so you can decide if this is the best career path for you.

What is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon?

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are specialized dental surgeons who treat patients with medical issues that involve the maxillofacial areas and oral cavities of the mouth and face. These medical and dental professionals evaluate, diagnose and provide treatment for a variety of conditions that can affect the bones in the face, including the cheekbones, forehead and the soft connective tissues in these areas.

Since the practice of oral and maxillofacial surgery involves complex procedures and specialized knowledge, oral and maxillofacial surgeons must combine both dental and medical expertise to treat patients. This means that oral and maxillofacial surgeons commonly hold both dental and medical degrees. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon works with dental professionals and office staff to ensure compassionate and superior care of their patients and may take on many responsibilities in addition to performing oral surgery. Several important job duties of an oral and maxillofacial surgeon include:

  • Removing impacted, damaged and unrestorable teeth

  • Performing reconstructive surgery to areas of the mouth, face, neck or jaw following injuries, medical procedures or other conditions

  • Treating and evaluating patients for temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)

  • Treating infections in the jaw, neck, salivary glands and overall oral cavity, including mouth ulcers and cysts

  • Performing jaw realignment surgeries to improve health and appearance

  • Performing cosmetic dental procedures like cheekbone and chin enhancements

  • Collaborating with surgical teams to improve processes and ensure positive outcomes for patients

  • Evaluating patients' symptoms to identify conditions affecting overall health

  • Educating patients and families about procedures, exams and medical results

Related: What Is An Oral Surgeon?

Where do oral and maxillofacial surgeons work?

An oral and maxillofacial surgeon can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private dental practices and surgical centers. Some oral and maxillofacial surgeons go on to teach at dental schools and supervise dental residents in training. Additionally, many oral and maxillofacial surgeons often open their own practices, providing expert care and treatment to patients in their communities.

Related: 12 Types of Dentists (With Salaries and Requirements)

How to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon

The following steps show you how you can become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon:

1. Earn your bachelor's degree

All prospective dental and medical students must earn an undergraduate degree. A bachelor's programs in pre-med studies or one that focuses heavily on biology, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, chemistry and mathematics can help prepare you for dental school and surgical training.

2. Take and pass the Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

Before enrolling in dental school, you must take and pass the DAT, which evaluates your abilities in biological and physiological subjects, along with your logical reasoning, comprehension and math skills. Once you pass the exam, you're eligible to enroll in dental school.

3. Complete dental school

Your dental education program can take up to four years to complete and focus on general dental practice, treatment methods and other aspects of the field. Many programs require students to participate in internships, where they work with dental patients and apply their skills. At the end of your dental program, you receive your Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree. Both allow you to practice dentistry, however, to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you need to complete advanced training to obtain your medical degree.

4. Complete an approved surgical residency

Completing an approved residency advances your training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and awards you with your medical degree, which you need in addition to your DDS or DDM to practice. Oral and maxillofacial surgical residencies can last anywhere from four to six years, with at least two years dedicated to obtaining your medical degree. Additionally, oral and maxillofacial surgeons complete clinical rotations that help them apply their training and knowledge and prepare them for entering their careers.

5. Apply for state licensure

Once you obtain your dental and medical degrees, you can apply for your state license to practice. Exact requirements for licensure can vary between states, so it's important to research what the requirements are for the state you plan to work in. Typically, though, oral and maxillofacial surgeons obtain certification through the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS) by taking and passing the Oral Certifying Examination (OCE). Once you obtain your license to practice, you can enter your career.

Related: How To Become a Dentist

Tips for developing your career as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Developing in your career as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon can help you overcome challenges, build supportive relationships and succeed in your role. Consider the following tips for supporting your career development:

  • Take part in research and innovations in dentistry. Advance your career and support your knowledge of topics in your field by finding and contributing to research opportunities, collaborating with dental and surgical teams and attending workshops that help you deepen your expertise.

  • Involve your surgical teams in patient evaluations. Aspiring surgeons and surgical assistants can benefit from observing patient exams and evaluations, as this involvement provides learning opportunities that can help your team advance in their careers.

  • Develop your customer service skills. Customer service skills are highly useful in fields other than sales, and your ability to connect and build relationships with your patients can ensure your practice maintains a positive reputation and public image.

Related: How To Be a Better Dental Assistant: Definition and Tips

FAQ about being an oral and maxillofacial surgeon

Consider the following frequently asked questions for additional insight into becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon:

What is the average salary for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon?

According to Indeed's salary guide, surgeons in the United States earn an average income of $282,016 per year, which can differ significantly depending on the field of surgery. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform complex and sensitive procedures on teeth and bone in the jaw and face, and because of these specialized surgical skills, may earn more than the average for general surgeons. Additionally, your salary can vary depending on where you live, how long you practice oral and maxillofacial surgery and the level of your credentials.

Related: How Much Do Oral Surgeons Make?

What is the career outlook for oral and maxillofacial surgeons?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected employment growth for general dentistry is 3% between 2019 and 2029, which is about equal to all occupations together. The projected career outlook for surgeons is 4%, which can include both oral surgeons and oral and maxillofacial surgeons.

What other fields can oral and maxillofacial surgeons specialize in?

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons work in a highly specialized field, however, some surgeons may focus their practice on specific areas of the jaw, face, neck and skull to provide treatments for patients. For instance, some oral and maxillofacial surgeons specialize in cancers of the jaw and neck and work with patients with related conditions and abnormalities. Other oral and maxillofacial surgeons specialize in reconstructive surgery of the bones of the face, jaw and neck to help patients who have had injuries, illnesses and other conditions that cause deformation of the maxillofacial regions.

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