Oral Surgeon: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for oral surgeons. Get the facts about job duties, education and licensure requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Oral Surgeon?

An oral surgeon is a dentist with a surgical specialization. These professionals diagnose and treat diseases, injuries and abnormalities of the oral and maxillofacial region, performing operations that can address both functional and aesthetic conditions. Oral surgeons commonly conduct procedures such as tooth extraction, jaw realignment, cleft lip repair and dental implant insertion. In most cases, they work at dentist offices, although some are employed at hospitals and other medical facilities as well.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming an oral surgeon.

Degree Required Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.)
Training Required 4-year oral surgery residency
Key Responsibilities Examine patient, make diagnosis and determine suitability for surgery; perform surgery to correct deformities caused by injury, disease or correct congenital defects and restore normal function; supervise patient recovery from surgery
Licensure or Certification All dentists must be licensed; licensure in oral and maxillofacial surgery is required in many states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%*
Mean Salary (2015) $233,900*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does an Oral Surgeon Do?

An oral surgeon is a trained dentist who specializes in surgeries of the mouth, gums, teeth, neck and jaws. As an oral surgeon, you would consult with patients about treatment options, perform surgeries and keep abreast of the latest advances in surgical and dental technology. You also might monitor patients' recovery and conduct research.

What Education Do I Need?

The first step in becoming an oral surgeon is completing a bachelor's degree program. Although there is no required major, you'll want to take pre-dental courses, such as biology, chemistry and physics. You'll also need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and apply to 4-year dental programs.

Dental school programs blend essential coursework in the basic sciences in the first two years with practical, hands-on clinical experiences with patients in the last two years. Upon completion of your program, you'll be awarded a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), and you'll be prepared to sit for the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE) to obtain state licensure.

After dental school, you'll need to complete an oral surgery residency program, which generally lasts around four years. During residency, you'll be exposed to a number of areas of medicine pertinent to oral surgery, such as anesthesiology, intensive care, internal medicine and general surgery. You'll work with licensed doctors and dentists, providing patient care, conducting research and participating in clinical rotations.

How Do I Get Licensed and Certified?

All dentists, including oral surgeons, must earn state licensure in order to practice. Since each state has different requirements, you should check with your state board to find out the exact steps you'll need to take. Most states require that you graduate from an accredited dental program and pass the NBDE written exams and a state-level practical exam.

Board certification in your specialty is optional. You can apply for certification through the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (www.aboms.org). You'll need to demonstrate your cognitive expertise, maintain a high professional standing, participate in continuing education and receive performance evaluations in order to maintain your certification.

How Much Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for oral and maxillofacial surgeons in 2015 was $233,900. This varied by industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that those working in dental offices tended to earn more than those working in other settings, with a mean annual salary of $243,240, compared to $195,720 for those working in outpatient care centers.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As a trained dentist, you could choose to practice as a generalist, or you could choose a different specialization area, such as an oral radiologist, oral pathologist, prosthodontist or orthodontist. If you are particularly interested in surgical procedures, you could also consider training as a surgeon instead of a dentist. This would require a four-year medical degree, followed by a residency in surgery and an optional fellowship in a particular specialization area of interest.

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