What Is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Oral Surgeon?

August 18, 2021

As you care for your oral health, you may find yourself working with more than just a general dentist. You may also interact with oral surgeons, periodontists, endodontists, orthodontists, or other specialists. Discover the differences between a dentist and an oral surgeon.

Training and Education

Whether someone wants to be a dentist or an oral surgeon, their training and education start the same. They will begin with a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, like pre-medicine or pre-dentistry. Then, the dental school follows, with the graduate program typically taking four years.

Those four years include coursework on a range of relevant topics, including pathology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and oral surgery. It also includes practical experience that serves as hands-on training under the supervision of a dentist or dental school. At this point, general dentists take the licensure exam and can start practicing after passing and getting their license.

By contrast, oral surgeons will complete a surgical residency that lasts four to six years. This has to be an accredited residency. After completing it, the oral surgeon has to pass an exam to become board-certified.

To put the difference simply, oral surgeons have all the education and training of a dentist plus another four to six years of specialization.

What They Focus On and Treat

Oral surgeons and general dentists focus on different aspects of dentistry, but they interact regularly and work together to promote their patients’ overall oral health.

Your dentist is the primary care provider for your oral health. You visit the dentist for teeth cleanings, fill cavities, have X-rays taken, and get other treatments, such as crowns, bridges, and dentures. Your dentist will also give you suggestions to improve your oral health.

Oral surgeons, also known as maxillofacial surgeons, focus on performing surgery to treat issues with your mouth, jaw, or face. Oral surgeons can perform tooth extractions, including extracting wisdom teeth. They also handle more complex surgeries, including biopsies of soft tissue, removing tumors, jaw realignment, positioning implants, repairing soft tissue, and reconstructive surgery after an accident.

Some maxillofacial surgeons will even perform surgery to help treat breathing or sleeping issues. This may involve removing soft tissue from the lower jaw or oropharynx. They can also treat cancers of the mouth, neck, and head. Oral surgeons may also help with facial infections, removing lesions, cleft lips or cleft palate, and nerve repair.

Oral surgeons also have experience administering anesthesia of all levels. This lets you choose from a local anesthetic that only numbs one area of the body or general anesthesia, as well as other options.

The Overlap

You will notice some overlap in what dentists and oral surgeons treat. They are both capable of performing tooth extractions and other basic surgeries. However, Oral surgeons typically handle more complex surgeries and extractions—like wisdom teeth. In the case of simple tooth extraction or implant placement, you will likely have the option of seeing the dentist or an oral surgeon.

When to See Each

If you need any dental work done that involves surgery, you may need to see an oral surgeon. As mentioned, dentists can perform tooth extractions and take care of placing implants, provided your situation is not complex. If you have a more complex situation or require surgery, your dentist will likely suggest you see an oral surgeon in Lincoln Square. An example of a complicated tooth extraction would involve bone or one with impacted teeth, something that is common for wisdom teeth. Your dentist may also suggest an oral surgeon if they feel you have a higher chance of complications during surgery.

Your dentist may also suggest you see an oral surgeon for these procedures if your anesthesia preferences don’t match what the dentist can provide. Dentists typically have more limited anesthetic options than oral surgeons as they perform fewer surgeries.

More complex surgeries, such as jaw realignment, reconstructive surgery following an accident, or repairing jawbones or soft tissues, will almost always involve an oral surgeon.

If there is no need for surgery and you just need regular dental care, you’d want to see a dentist like Dr. Sharma. Visit your dentist for regular cleanings or when you experience tooth pain, chipped teeth, or cavities.

How Often You See Each

Because dentists take care of your overall oral health, you will see them regularly throughout your life. The typical suggestion is to visit Dr. Sharma twice per year, but those with poor oral health may need to see him more frequently. The important thing is that everyone should see a dentist regularly regardless of their oral health.

By contrast, not everyone will need to see an oral surgeon. If you don’t require any oral surgeries or only need simple extractions that your dentist can handle, you may not need to see an oral surgeon ever in your life.

This means that while most people have a regular dentist that they see, they do not necessarily have an oral surgeon. Luckily, your dentist will be able to recommend an oral surgeon for you frequently within the same practice if there’s a need.

What to Do If You Don’t Know Which to See

If you don’t know whether your situation requires a dentist or an oral surgeon, visit your dentist first. They will let you know and give you a referral to an oral surgeon. Most people who visit an oral surgeon do so based on the referral of a dentist, so this is completely normal.

The Bottom Line

Oral surgeons complete all the training required to become a dentist and then complete additional training to specialize in surgery. They handle dental surgeries of all difficulty levels. You can visit your dentist or an oral surgeon for tooth extraction but need to see an oral surgeon for a more complex case, like jaw reconstruction.

If you are ever unsure if you need to see an oral surgeon, make an appointment with your dentist in Chicago first. Your dentist will diagnose your issues and come up with a treatment plan, which may include consulting with an oral surgeon.






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