How to Become an Oral Surgeon

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Oral Surgeon

What is an Oral Surgeon? 

An oral surgeon is a specialized dentist who primarily performs surgery in and around the maxillofacial area and oral cavity. This includes the mouth, face, cheek bones, jaw, and other areas in which a regular dentist does not often work.


Oral surgery is a specialization of general dentistry; however, many oral surgeons also have degrees or have studied medicine extensively in addition to their dentistry degrees. This qualifies them to perform a wide variety of operations a general dentist cannot perform, usually leading to a referral to an oral surgeon after the dentist’s evaluation.

Duties of Oral Surgeon


  • Diagnose advanced maxillofacial diseases and formulate a treatment plan
  • Administer sedation for surgery
  • Remove impacted or damaged teeth
  • Remove tumors caused by oral cancer
  • Remove wisdom teeth
  • Reconstruct facial features such as teeth or bones
  • Install dental implants
  • Realign the jaw and teeth
  • Perform cosmetic procedures for teeth, chin, jaw, cheekbones, and more

While many think of oral surgeons as simply dentists who perform surgery, they are actually highly educated doctors and surgeons as well as dentists. With an additional 4 years of surgical training after dental school, they become the perfect combination of surgeon and dentist, allowing them to perform the most advanced oral and maxillofacial procedures possible. They are also the only health care specialists who can administer anesthesia aside from licensed anesthesiologists, making them a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to oral surgery.


Bonuses and Benefits of Oral Surgeon

As with many medical professions, bonuses are not often awarded to oral surgeons. Their “bonuses” usually come from regular raises based upon their experience in the industry, or as a “signing bonus” for new surgeons joining teams.


Oral surgeons do not often work alone and are mainly a part of a team of dentistry professionals at a practice, medical care facility, or hospital. The job market is competitive for employers seeking oral surgeons, and as a result these employers will often provide exceptional salaries and coverage for a variety of benefits. These can include but are not limited to:


  • Medical, dental, and vision coverage
  • Life insurance
  • 401K and other financial services
  • Signing bonuses
  • Reimbursement for continued education, licenses, and memberships

Employers understand that oral surgery is a highly specialized profession, and those who excel are given exceptional job offers due to the need for oral surgeons worldwide.


Work Environment of Oral Surgeon

Oral surgeons can work all over the world due to the need for medical professionals worldwide. In these locations, they will often find themselves working primarily in private practices and hospitals, working on cases involving the maxillofacial and oral areas as a specialty surgeon and collaborating with other doctors and dentists.

General Environment

1

Oral surgeons generally work in office or hospital settings indoors due to the sterilization requirements for surgery to be safe. They will often be temperature controlled and comfortable for patients and doctors alike. The specifics of the environment will depend on the location, with larger hospitals varying greatly from private practices.


Geographically, oral surgeons can work anywhere that requires medical professionals. Their skills are universal, allowing them to travel on humanitarian missions to developing countries or work at a downtown hospital in the United States. However, when traveling to developing countries, the environment is likely to change significantly depending on the accommodations provided at the location.

Office Environment

2

When not employed at a hospital, many oral surgeons will work in private practices. Private practices usually consist of multiple doctors and dentists working together with the help of nurses and assistants to limit the workload. An oral surgeon may not be included in every appointment at the practice, as very often general dentists evaluate clients and then recommend they see an oral surgeon afterwards.


The environment is sure to be incredibly clean, well lit, inviting to quell any patient worries, and comfortable to work in. Offices can be anywhere that oral surgery is required and will contain an operating room where the surgeon can safely operate in addition to standard rooms and services.

Hospitals 

3

Hospitals are an incredibly common work environment for oral surgeons due to the knowledge and skills required to effectively diagnose and operate on the maxillofacial and oral areas. Hospitals are often the destination for emergencies, and in the case of a facial or oral injury, quick intervention by an oral surgeon can help improve the patient’s outlook.


Oral surgeons will spend much of their time in operating rooms when working at a hospital, but the environment overall will vary greatly depending on the hospital. Larger hospitals are more likely to have more operating rooms, more patients, and more amenities, however the industry standard hospital is incredibly clean and comfortable to work in making hospitals a great place to work.

Developing Country Volunteer Work

4

Oral health contributes to overall health much more than the average person thinks. Developing countries can often lack the necessary tools and dental professionals to provide preventative and treatment services to the general population, leading to oral diseases, damage, and more.


Oral surgeons may find themselves traveling to impoverished areas in developing countries in order to provide life-saving medical care to the citizens. These hospitals and care facilities are likely to be crowded and suboptimal, and they will likely be working closely with local medical professionals in order to provide care to an often staggeringly high number of patients.

Social Environment

5

Many medical professionals work in teams, and oral surgeons are no exception. Between surgical and dental assistants, other medical professionals and patients, an oral surgeon will be around and interacting with many people a day. Those working in a hospital especially are likely to interact with a large number of people a day due to higher patient counts and larger collaborative teams.

Work Schedules of Oral Surgeon

Oral surgeons are highly specialized dentists and doctors, and often times they may be one of the few professionals qualified to perform a specific procedure in the case of an emergency. With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for oral surgeons to be on-call in the case of an emergency at the hospital or one of their patients having an emergency. Therefore, they are prone to working erratic hours and are not on a regular schedule in many cases.


In addition to being on call, oral surgery can be a very long and intricate process. This makes long hours of work common and coupled with being on call can lead to long nights and a lack of sleep.


Important Qualities of Oral Surgeon

Qualities

Solid coordination and dexterity

The human body is one of the most intricate pieces of technology in the world, and surgeons are tasked with navigating the intricacies to safely repair wounds and save lives. In order to do this safely, surgeons often need to carefully operate by hand to complete their procedures.


Oral surgeons work in an incredibly delicate part of the body, near the eyes, brain, and throat. This area has exceptionally small and intricate systems running through it, increasing the difficulty of many procedures. One wrong move could lead to potentially disastrous results, making it incredibly important that an oral surgeon has a steady hand and solid coordination to avoid any mistakes.

Calm under pressure

In the case of an emergency, oral surgeons can often have lives in their hands, making it an incredibly stressful job. Any kind of procedure, especially invasive procedures can go wrong regardless of the skill of the surgeon. If something goes wrong while an oral surgeon is operating, they need to address it calmly and effectively, minimizing any lost time that could lead to more damage.

 

Additionally, the medical field is a fast-paced and stressful industry. The ability to remain calm and manage emotions allows for clear thought and an overall more effective surgeon.

Able to problem solve

Oral surgeons are problems solvers. They take the symptoms experienced by the patient, identify the cause, formulate a plan to fix it, and then perform the procedure to help their patient and possibly save their life. In many emergency cases, there may not be much information to go off of, making the surgeon’s ability to effectively diagnose a problem vital to the outcome.

Great organizational and multitasking skills

Surgeries are incredibly complex, and when the procedure itself is just one of the responsibilities, it is important to be able to multitask effectively. An oral surgeon needs to monitor the status of the patient at all times with help from their surgical team. They will also be organizing the team to keep their efforts coordinated and performing the surgery itself, requiring a great amount of focus and multi-tasking ability.

Patient and strong

Surgeries can be physically and mentally exhausting. In some cases, the surgeries can require hours of constant focus and standing, leading to fatigue, and degrading the surgeon’s ability to operate.

 

An oral surgeon needs to be able to stay patient, calm, and composed throughout the procedure regardless of how they feel at the time. Surgery is a delicate procedure and takes time to do correctly, so oral surgeons should be ready for long hours.

Great communication skills

Oral surgery is almost always a team effort. When operating on a patient, it is important that the surgeon constantly communicate with their team, ensuring that they are performing their jobs correctly and understand what is happening at all times.

 

Being able to clearly delegate tasks to their team as well as communicate effectively will offer the patient the best chance of survival in case of an emergency. It also minimizes mistakes and misunderstandings between different team members and increases the speed at which procedures can be completed safely.

A drive to help and succeed

The medical field is not an easy industry to get into. It requires a lot of work, but the ability to help improve people’s lives is often the largest motivating factor for aspiring oral surgeons to achieve their goals and complete the schooling required to become an oral surgeon.

 

Additionally, as technology and learning advances, there are regularly new development within the medical field. These improvements can increase safety and effectiveness, making it vital that oral surgeons are able to adapt and regularly learn to stay on top of their game. A drive to succeed will allow them to learn from their mistakes and always look to improve and become better surgeons overall.


Similar Occupations

The educational requirements for oral surgeons make them incredibly versatile medical professionals. They combine the skills of medicine and dentistry in order to diagnose and treat a variety of maxillofacial and oral diseases and damage, however their skills and knowledge extends past just their patients’ faces.

Oral surgeons have many of the requirements and traits for a variety of other medical professions. Their problem solving abilities, communication skills, and drive to succeed make them great candidates for the following professions:




Projected Future of an Oral Surgeon

Career Prospects

Next to technology, there are few more steadily growing and reliable fields than medicine. People will always get sick, meaning that there can never be enough medical professionals available to help. As the population continues to grow, the need for medical professionals with the level of expertise of oral surgeons will grow as well. As this need grows, the salaries and benefits offerings will grow as well due to a lack of qualified applicants, making it an incredibly lucrative career.


Job Outlook

Within the next 8 years, the need for oral surgeons is likely to rise by about 17% (USNews.com), showing that the outlook for oral surgery is very promising. Additionally, with the lack of focus on preventative care and overall oral health in developing countries, the number of people requiring oral and maxillofacial surgery continues to grow. This means that the need for oral surgeons is able to surpass just the general dentistry requirements, making the choice to specialize into an oral surgeon a promising decision and one that could secure a career helping people for many years to come.

         Potential Increase


There is room for a potential increase in employment opportunities as technology allows for more cost-effective solutions to dental procedures. Currently the primary deterring factor limiting dental care for citizens of developed countries is the high cost of procedures and minimal insurance coverage.

If the importance of oral health is emphasized and easier to attain, there will be more jobs available as demand for procedures only oral surgeons can perform will increase. If it does not, the rising population will provide numerous new patients every day.

Career Options

An oral surgeon has a variety of different settings and environments they can work in. They are able to work closely with a team of other doctors in a private practice, running their own business local to their homes. Alternatively, they can choose to go on relief missions and provide assistance to those in need in developing countries. Finally, they can work on a fast-paced hospital meeting and helping many patients on a day-to-day basis.


Oral surgeons also have a number of transferrable skills, allowing them to branch out to other realms of surgery or dentistry which allows for a versatile career path depending on what they enjoy.


How to Become an Oral Surgeon


The path to becoming an oral surgeon starts early and lasts for an exceptional amount of time. Beginning in high school, aspiring oral surgeons can expect to complete 12 or more years of schooling after high school to be able to practice oral and maxillofacial surgery. The steps to do so are as follows:


  • Focus on high-level math and science courses in high school, focusing on biology and chemistry in order to familiarize and prepare yourself for college courses elaborating on the topics
  • Find dental schools you are interested in enrolling at and their preferred requirements for admission. Complete either an associate or bachelor’s degree depending on the requirements, being sure to complete the required courses at an accredited school. These often include biology, organic chemistry, and chemistry
  • Complete the Dental Admission Test and apply and be accepted into a dental school
  • Complete 4 years of dental school, attaining your Doctor of Dental Surgery degree
  • Apply for an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program, working for 4-6 years to specialize in oral surgery
  • Complete a written and oral exam to become licensed and certified in oral and maxillofacial surgery

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