Until you need one, you may not realize how different an oral surgeon is from your regular dentist. From training and experience to staffing and equipment in their dental offices, there is a significant difference between these two professionals.
Let’s take a look first at a general dentist. This is the dentist you and your family have been visiting on an ongoing basis. His focus is in preventing oral health problems, which is why you get your teeth cleaned twice a year and have diagnostic x-rays done. A general dentist also offers many kinds of restorative and cosmetic care like fillings, crowns and bridges. Cosmetic services may include veneers or whitening.
General dentists also look for other health concerns, such as infections of the gums and mouth or signs of mouth cancer. They also monitor their patients for conditions such as impacted wisdom teeth or problems with the roots that might require the care of a dental specialist.
An oral surgeon is properly called an “oral and maxillofacial surgeon.” Oral refers to the mouth and maxillofacial refers to the jaw and face. This means that this doctor is trained and experienced in surgeries of the face, jaw, head, neck and the mouth. In essence, they are a general dentist who has gone on to do advanced training and is now a surgeon.
How Do General Dentists Work with Oral Surgeons
An alliance between these two professionals provides the highest level of care for patients. When each of these professionals focuses on their own specialties, they align their staff training and office facilities to achieve ideal results for patients. When oral surgery is the needed treatment for a patient, a referral from your general dentist to an expert surgeon is the right move.
Oral surgeons know that general dentists care about their patients, even when they are being treated elsewhere. That’s why communication between their offices is important, along with informing the general dentist of the care provided and the outcome.
What Services Are Included in Oral Surgery
Your general dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon if you need one of the following services:
- Extraction of an impacted tooth, including a wisdom tooth. This is a surgical procedure that may require cutting into both the gums and the jawbone.
- Placement of dental implants. A dental implant is the titanium foundation of a replacement tooth (similar to the tooth’s original root). This implant is placed down in the jawbone and then is allowed to fully heal and bond with the bone. The general dentist will then create and place the porcelain tooth atop the implant.
- Bone grafts. Before having an implant placed, some people need supporting bone built up to be thicker and stronger because they have lost bone mass or suffered other damage. An oral surgeon has special techniques to encourage bone growth.
- Sinus lifts. This refers to techniques to thicken the bone of the upper jaw. When this bone has thinned or was never thick enough to start with, upper jaw implants can’t be performed without possibly penetrating the open area (sinus) above. Similar to the bone graft technique, an oral surgeon can encourage the growth of thicker bone in this area.
- Repair of jaw disorders. These disorders could include deformities present at birth, bone infections, trauma from accidents or problems with the temporomandibular joint (the joint near the ear where the jaw hooks into the skull). (Isn’t this also known as TMJ? If so, saying so may make it easier for the layman to relate.)
- Replacing lost teeth or repairing other damage from accidents. When teeth are partially or fully knocked out, they can often be restored with prompt care. An oral surgeon is also skilled in repairing the soft tissue damage that may occur in an accident.
A general dentist normally completes a four-year undergraduate degree and then four years of dental school. After completing this training, Dr. Virginia Lee went on to train in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Systems and at Adam Crowley’s Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Maryland. She has been offering oral and maxillofacial surgery in the Washington, D.C. area for nearly two decades.
If you think you may need oral or maxillofacial surgery, contact the Capital Oral & Facial Surgery Center today for a consultation with Dr. Lee.