July 2012 - Athens Oral Surgery Center

Face Facts: What is an Oral Surgeon?


By Jonathan Tomlinson, MD

As an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, I am often asked questions about my field, my training and about how oral surgery relates to other healthcare fields.

Is Oral Surgery a dental or medical specialty?

Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery was born out of dentistry. However, over time, like many disciplines, the practice of oral surgery evolved. Oral surgeons now treat comprehensive facial trauma, head and neck pathological conditions, and facial aesthetics which are typically perceived as medical treatments. Additionally, nearly 40% of all practicing oral surgeons are M.D.s, many choosing to practice under a medical license instead of or in addition to their dental license.

What education and training does an oral surgeon have, and are there variations within the field?

After a mandatory completion of four years of higher education, graduation from an accredited college or university, followed by completion of a four-year education at an accredited dental school, each surgeon must then apply for and complete very rigorous residency training which includes at least three years of training strictly devoted to oral surgery and 9-12 months of general surgery training. Each oral surgeon also receives at least 4 months of training dedicated to anesthesia. Additionally, some surgeons decide to complete 2-3 years of medical school education to be awarded their medical degree (M.D.), during their residency.

What treatments and procedures do oral surgeons offer?

The original role of an oral surgeon was to serve as a specialist in the dental field, primarily in the extraction of teeth and surgical treatments of the oral hard and soft tissues. This specialty field has progressed and expanded to include treatment of pathological conditions of the head and neck, including benign and malignant diseases; treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders; treatment of craniofacial syndromes such as cleft lip and palate and jaw deformities; facial cosmetic surgery and dental implant therapy. 

Do Oral Surgeons practice in an office or hospital setting?

Of the more than 5,800 oral surgeons in the United States, the vast majority practice primarily in an outpatient office setting. The majority of these surgeons maintain operating and admitting privileges at local hospitals. There are some surgeons that primarily practice in a hospital setting, and of these, many are affiliated with academic and teaching institutions.

Are there quality control standards in place governing oral surgeons?

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (aaoms.org) is a national which regulates and provides oversight and recommendations regarding safe practice to oral surgeons. Additionally each state also has its own state organization with a similar charge, such as the Georgia Society of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons (ga-oms.org). The American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (aboms.org) is responsible for establishing standards for oral and maxillofacial surgery training programs, as well as testing and awarding worthy candidates board certification in the specialty.

I hope this article has provided insight and information regarding the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery, which is a complex and critical component of the healthcare delivery system. Please feel free to email any inquiries regarding the specialty or other topics you may interested in learning more about to me at [email protected].