Oral Surgeon vs. Dentist – Why choose an Oral Surgeon?

Oral Surgeon vs. Dentist – Why choose an Oral Surgeon?

You need to undergo a surgical procedure in your mouth and your general dentist has referred you to an oral surgeon.

The questions start immediately:

Why an oral surgeon? And why this particular oral surgeon?

Trusting any kind of surgical procedure to a doctor you are not familiar with is a decision that should not to be taken lightly. It is good to ask questions. So, let’s try to give you some answers.

Why an oral surgeon?

An oral surgeon (known formally as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon) is a dental specialist. All dentists, whether they are generalists or specialists, spend upwards of seven or eight years in college and dental college earning a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine). Both of these dental degrees are equivalent, allowing a dentist to “hang out a shingle” to practice general dentistry after passing a state licensing exam. An oral surgeon, though, spends an additional four to six years of in training after dental school, mostly in a hospital-based surgical environment.

An oral surgeon agrees to forgo practicing the areas of dentistry outside of his or her scope of specialty training and focuses strictly on performing dental surgical procedures.  These procedures include: simple and complicated teeth extractions (including wisdom teeth), dental implant placement, repair of broken bones in the jaws and face, removal of cysts and tumors of the jaws, soft tissue biopsies, jaw realignment surgery to correct bite discrepancies, and cosmetic and TMJ surgeries.

Although a community-based oral surgeon may choose not to perform some of the more complicated operations as part of his or her daily practice, the likelihood is that any dental surgery procedure performed occasionally by a general dentist is performed routinely by an oral surgeon.  This translates into better outcomes.  For instance, the results of a recent survey published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) suggest that dental implant survival and success rates in dental surgery practices are higher than the same procedures performed by general dentists.

From their in-depth surgical training background, oral surgeons are also exposed to a wide range of complications that may arise from performing the various dental surgical procedures.  While a general dentist may feel comfortable performing a dental surgery procedure on you, the same dentist may not feel comfortable managing what complications may arise from that procedure.  An oral surgeon will often, if not always, be able to manage the complications that arise from a surgery he or she performs.

Why this particular oral surgeon?

Chances are your general dentist has referred you to an oral surgeon because he or she has determined that an oral surgeon’s level of expertise will improve your chances for having a proper evaluation and a better outcome with the procedure you’ve been advised to undergo.  Your dentist may have also referred you to a particular oral surgeon or oral surgery office because he or she knows the surgeons and work with them frequently.  General dentists usually trust the specialists they send you to, seeing them as extensions of themselves.

General dentists are the “family practitioners” of the mouth.  Licensed dentists can choose to perform any dental procedure with which they are comfortable, whether it be placing a filling, extracting teeth (impacted or erupted), a root canal procedure, dental implant placement, deep cleaning (or scaling and root planing) of teeth, placement of crowns and bridges, Invisalign, and bone and soft tissue grafting.  That being said, each of these areas of dental practice is becoming more complicated.  It’s hard for general dentists to continue feeling competent with all of these procedures, some of which they may have had only limited exposure to in their dental schooling.  Good dentists will diagnose and treat only the conditions with which they feel comfortable and will refer you to a specialist for anything further.

In the end, your decision to see an oral surgeon is based partially on the recommendation from your general dentist but also on your confidence in knowing that you are seeing an individual who performs the procedure you need on a regular basis.  By visiting an oral surgeon, you are choosing to see someone who has undergone specialty training, who has years of experience performing the procedure you need and who has exposure to the treatment of complications.

When it comes to your health, isn’t this the care you deserve?