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Oral and maxillofacial surgery is a dental specialty focused on diagnosis and treatment of diseases, injuries, and defects of the mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, face, and related tissues and bones of the maxillofacial (jaw and face) area. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are the only dental specialists who undergo clinical training in a hospital-based residency program -- similar to the way physicians are trained. In addition to their area of focus, these specialists also have training in internal medicine, general surgery, plastic surgery and emergency medicine as well as methods of sedation and local and general anesthesia.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons perform many types of surgical procedures; a common one is placement of dental implants -- small titanium posts inserted into the bone where teeth are missing -- that provide a foundation for replacement teeth that will look and function like natural teeth. Implants preserve facial structure and prevent bone deterioration that occurs when teeth are missing.
Another common dental procedure is extraction of impacted or otherwise problematic wisdom teeth. Early consultation with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon after examination and x-rays of the mouth and teeth x-rays can reveal the position of the wisdom teeth and reveal or predict the likelihood of future infection, cyst formation or jaw bone destruction. Extraction of the wisdom teeth under local or general anesthesia, a very common procedure for older teens and young adults, is safe and helps avoid these potential problems.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons also perform bone grafting to repair jaw bone damaged by previous extractions, gum disease or injury; they treat traumatic facial injuries; and they evaluate and treat bite abnormalities and disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the area where the jaw joins the face in front of the ear. Procedures to treat bite and TMJ issues can relieve pain, reconstruct a misaligned jaw, and improve function and coordination of the mouth and jaw.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons also have expertise in spotting changes in the appearance of the lips, cheeks, palate, gums, tongue, face, and/or neck that may represent early signs of disease, including cancer. For example, they evaluate the mouth cavity for signs of oral cancer, looking for discolored or thickened areas or lumps inside the mouth, difficulty chewing or swallowing and hoarseness.
Finally, oral and maxillofacial surgery is one of the medical/surgical disciplines that can treat some of the causes of sleep apnea, an increasingly common set of problems that increase the risk for disordered sleep, cardiovascular disease, stroke and depression. Although non-invasive treatments such as weight loss and/or the use of splints are often the first choices for combating the most common types of sleep apnea, some patients may require surgery. When the issue causing or contributing most significantly to the problem is within the oral and maxillofacial surgeon's area of expertise, newer procedures such as maxillomandibular advancement, or reduction of the base of the tongue by laser excision or radiofrequency ablation, are often beneficial.
For more information about oral and maxillofacial surgeons on the Medical Staff at The Chester County Hospital and Health System, call our Physician Referral Service at610.738.2300or visit the Find a Doctor section of our website.
Last Updated: 8/30/2013