The Scoop on Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

If you like teeth and you're willing to finish Dental School then being an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon might be for you.

Basically, the Dental profession consists of a bunch of Dentists who own their own practices, and work until retirement as a Dentist. However, when you're an Oral Surgeon you are specializing in Oral Surgery you will have to do about 8 years of collegiate work plus more advanced education to learn the specialty. However, after you've learned everything you need to know you can start your own practice (not as numerous as with General Dentists, work in a hospital, or work alongside a General Dentist or as "The" Surgeon in a Dentistry practice.

What in the World Does an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Do?

Most of us have been to a Dentist's office, but we may not realize that the Oral Surgeon isn't just a Dentist who uses a scalpel. An Oral Surgeon diagnoses diseases of the mouth and jaw and operates on them in whatever way is necessary.

As an Oral Surgeon you are responsible for prepping patients before surgery, applying anesthesia, performing the operation, and stitching the surgical area. As with Dentists, Oral Surgeons will need to be able to recruit clients, but more often than not you will receive referrals from local Dentists since they are not surgeons. If you aren't the social type you might want to avoid this job since you MUST have a good working relationship with Dentists in your area so you can get enough referrals to stay in business. Because of the referral status of most of your Oral Surgery clients it might be wise to work with a Dentist so that your referrals can walk down the hall to your office instead of driving across town.

What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)

A Dentist is actually a "Doctor of Dentistry" (I know, it sounds important), but that means that you need a Bachelor's degree and you'll have to go to Dental School after that. An Oral Surgeon is a "Doctor of Dental Surgery" (I know, it sounds even more important.) The schooling process typically takes about 8 years, so it is not for those who don't, shall we say, "Enjoy" being in school. Also, most of these Dental Schools want you to do a couple of years of "pre dental" study (which usually means getting a degree in Biology or Chemistry) when you get your Bachelor's degree, so you want to make the choice to be an Oral Surgeon early if you can.

The "rub" is that there are only 56 accredited Dental Schools in the U.S. and you have to take the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) before you can be accepted to a Dental School, but once you're there they teach you EVERYTHING (that's why it takes 4 years.)

After you graduate, you'll have to get a license to practice Dentistry from the State Dental Board. Usually this means you have to pass a written test and a "skills" exam (I mean, working on a mouth for a grade!) before you can get your license. After you pass you will receive your license (which requires continuing education to renew) and then you can start your own practice or work for with established Dentist for a couple of years before you open your own practice. Building a client base is much harder for an Oral Surgeon because the need for Oral Surgery is lower than that for General Dental care.

How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?

Once you get your license and you've either worked for an established Dentist or you've got enough money to start your own practice you can go into business for yourself (by either starting a practice or buying one from a retiring Oral Surgeon.) Sometimes you might be able to work as part of a larger Dental Practice so you don't have to find your own patients and buy all your own equipment and secure an office space, but large practices are pretty rare. A larger practice provides many benefits for Oral Surgeons because even more equipment is required to perform Oral Surgeries.

If you want to advance in your career you can build your client base (you really do have to be the "social type" to own your own business as an Oral Surgeon) and/or teach and conduct research. Sometimes research and teaching require a couple more years of advanced schooling to become a Professor of Oral Surgery or Researcher. A College of Dentistry might be a place to go to work after you've had a lot of experience working in the field or it could be a nice place to work in your retirement. Either way, you don't JUST have to remove wisdom teeth your whole career.

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Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons Overview

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Salary:$180,420
Job Prospects:B
Education after high school:11 years
# Employed in US:4,760
% Who work Part Time:23%
Physical Difficulty:+ + + +
Intellectual Difficulty:+ + +
Emotional Difficulty:+ + +

The Pros of being an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

  • The opportunity to own your own business and set your own hours.
  • The chance to give other people jobs working in your office.
  • The opportunity to work in teaching or research
  • The ability to work alongside other professionals

The Cons of being an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

  • It takes 8 years of collegiate schooling to get a license and, maybe, advanced education
  • Your license requires a board exam and continuing education
  • It will very expensive to start your own practice or to buy one from a retiring Oral Surgeon (and the equipment for Oral Surgery is even more costly than that for General Dentistry)
  • You may have a hard time starting a practice because Oral Surgeons rely more on referrals than regular clients.