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Oral Surgeon Career Guide

What is an oral surgeon?

An oral surgeon is a specialized healthcare professional in dentistry. Armed with advanced training beyond the usual dental degree, they are equipped to handle intricate surgical procedures in the mouth, jaw, and face. They often collaborate with regular dentists and other medical specialists to provide comprehensive patient care. These professionals contribute significantly to patients’ overall health through their specialized knowledge of oral and maxillofacial surgery, including the diagnosis and surgical treatment of diseases, injuries, and defects. These procedures can range from minor to major surgical interventions.

Their value to an organization and its customers is heavily rooted in their ability to carry out operations that a general dentist might not be able to. Some practices need an oral surgeon on staff due to the complex nature of certain dental issues. These specialists excel in situations that require intricate knowledge of the facial structure and its underlying components, often providing essential care to patients in the field of corrective jaw surgery, oral pathology, and surgical dental implant placement.

Duties and responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of an oral surgeon are expansive and encompass various elements of patient care. They perform surgical procedures on the hard and soft tissues within the oral and maxillofacial regions. These procedures may include tooth extractions – particularly those of impacted or hard-to-reach teeth such as wisdom teeth, corrective jaw surgeries, dental implant surgeries, and surgery for cleft palate or cleft lip.

Additionally, these specialists play a critical role in diagnosing and treating oral diseases and facial injuries. They are responsible for treating facial pain and performing cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. This may include diagnosing oral cancer and managing patients with oral and facial deformities. They also handle surgical treatments for sleep apnea and other breathing problems. Their duties extend to providing anesthesia services for invasive procedures, emphasizing their work’s comprehensive healthcare nature.

Work environment

The work environment for an oral surgeon typically includes dental clinics and hospitals. In larger healthcare facilities, they may operate from a dedicated oral surgery suite. Occasionally, they may also be called upon for procedures in operating rooms, especially for patients needing extensive care under general anesthesia. Depending on the severity of the surgical procedures, some may perform surgeries in an outpatient setting. It’s important for them, like all medical professionals, to maintain a clean, sterile, and well-organized work environment to prevent cross-contamination and infection.

Typical work hours

Oral surgeons typically work full-time, generally around 40 hours a week, although the specific hours might vary among different practices and hospitals. During busy periods, extended hours are common, including early mornings, evenings, and sometimes weekends. Additionally, they might be on call for emergencies, making their schedule relatively unpredictable. Despite the frequent long hours, their ability to dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life often makes the job deeply rewarding.

How to become an oral surgeon

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming an oral surgeon. We will cover steps you must accomplish, ranging from high school preparation to professional certification and licensure, to make a successful career in this medical specialty.

Step 1: High school preparation

As a high school student interested in oral surgery, you should focus on taking biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics classes. These subjects will build a strong foundation for your future studies in this field. Participating in high school science clubs and volunteering in the healthcare field can also provide valuable experiences.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

After high school, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree. Pre-medical or biological science majors are common choices for aspiring surgeons. You should consult with your academic advisor to pick a suitable major and courses that will help you meet medical school requirements.

Step 3: Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

After completing your bachelor’s degree or during your last year of undergraduate school, you will need to take the MCAT. This test assesses your problem-solving, critical thinking, and scientific concepts and principles necessary for studying medicine. It’s an important component of your medical school application.

Step 4: Attend dental school

Once you pass the MCAT, you should apply to dental schools. Dental school, typically a four-year program, combines classroom and laboratory instruction with clinical practice. Upon completion, you earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

Step 5: Complete an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency

After dental school, aspiring professionals usually enter an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program. This multi-year program provides in-depth training in surgical procedures relating to the mouth, jaw, and face. This residency is a demanding and essential part of your training to become a skilled oral surgeon.

Step 6: Obtain required licenses

After you complete your residency, you must obtain a license to practice. This usually requires passing a state-administered dental examination. In some locations, you may also need to pass a practical examination. Licensing regulations vary by state, so make sure to consult the dental board in the state where you plan to practice.

Step 7: Become board certified

While this step is voluntary, becoming board-certified can enhance your job prospects and prove your expertise in oral surgery. You can become board-certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (ABOMS). Obtaining certification requires passing both a written and oral examination and meeting other ABOMS requirements.

Step 8: Gain professional experience

Finally, before starting your own practice, you’ll usually need to gain professional experience. Many specialists start their careers working in hospitals, dental practices, or teaching in academia. Throughout this period, it’s essential to continue learning and enhancing your skills.

How much do oral surgeons make?

Oral surgeon salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Other factors impacting compensation include specialization, complexity of procedures, and patient demographics.

Highest paying states

  • New York – $364,440
  • New Jersey – $342,350
  • Wisconsin – $335,790
  • California – $329,780
  • Nevada – $329,320

Browse oral surgeon salary data by market

Types of oral surgeons

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for oral surgeons, offering insights into the diverse paths within this profession.

Pediatric oral surgeon

This specialization requires physicians to diagnose and treat oral conditions in children and adolescents. Issues encountered can include congenital abnormalities, early tooth decay, and trauma injuries. With their child-friendly demeanor and expert knowledge in pediatric oral health, such practitioners play a pivotal role in maintaining the dental health of younger individuals.

Maxillofacial surgeon

A branch of oral surgery with a focus on the facial structure is maxillofacial surgery. Surgeons in this field treat diseases and injuries affecting the face, jaws, and the hard and soft tissues of these areas. Their work can range from reconstructive procedures to aesthetic enhancements, and they often work closely with orthodontists for corrective jaw surgery cases.

Oral and maxillofacial radiologist

Contributing to the diagnostic process, oral and maxillofacial radiologists specialize in using imaging technologies to identify diseases of the oral and maxillofacial region. They interpret data from X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other imaging methods. They also play a significant role in the planning stage of surgical procedures.

Oral pathologist

If you’re interested in studying the causes, processes, and effects of oral diseases, then a career as an oral pathologist may be worth considering. They examine tissues and cells under microscopes, make diagnoses, and direct the treatment protocols for diseases involving the oral and maxillofacial regions.

Top skills for oral surgeons

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as an oral surgeon.

Solid technical aptitude

Performing surgical procedures requires a high degree of precision and control. As you work in a field requiring the use of implements and specialized equipment, the ability to handle these tools accurately is a major contributor to your success.

Critical thinking

Patients suffer from a variety of symptoms and conditions, so being able to analyze their situations and formulate the best course of action is vital. Determining which procedures to perform and how to handle complications that may arise during surgery requires this skill.

Communication and interpersonal skills

As with any medical profession, the ability to interact effectively with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals significantly impacts your efficiency. A calm, clear, and empathetic communication style can help reduce patient anxiety and improve patient outcomes.

Physical stamina

Surgical procedures can sometimes take hours to complete. Physical stamina is necessary not only for the standing and precise movements required during surgery but also for managing the rigors of an often demanding and unpredictable schedule.

Continual learning

The field of oral surgery is continually changing with new technologies and procedures. Being open to learning and staying updated with the latest developments is key to providing top-level patient care.

Oral surgeon career path options

If you’re an oral surgeon, your career progression can be quite rewarding. With your specialized knowledge in oral surgery, you can advance to various higher-level positions beyond the typical scope of general dentistry.

Advancement in academia

The academic world can offer exciting avenues of growth. You might consider a career in teaching at a dental school, allowing you to impart your knowledge to the next generation of surgeons. Another option within academia could be research. Academically focused research roles often involve planning and conducting studies to further understand oral health and to develop new surgical procedures.

Specialty practices

Another progression opportunity is to specialize in a certain area of oral surgery. Possibilities include craniofacial surgery, reconstructive surgery, or pediatric oral surgery. Selecting a subspecialty provides the opportunity to explore focused areas and become an expert in those specific fields.

Administrative roles

Administrative roles also present viable career growth options. These positions could be in hospitals, dental schools, or private practices. Roles can range from a department head to a chief executive officer in a medical facility. In such positions, you bring your deep understanding of oral surgery to bear on administrative and managerial tasks, contributing to the improvement of patient care at a systemic level.

Independent practice

Finally, many professionals choose to run their own practice. This entrepreneurial aspect allows for complete control over their work, including the chance to define their work hours, select their team, and choose the specific services they provide. Although it comes with the responsibility of managing a business, it’s a rewarding progression path that combines medical expertise with entrepreneurship.

Expanding access to healthcare and growing populations have increased the demand for oral surgeons. Patients, more aware of their oral health needs than ever before, seek specialized treatment for complex dental issues that they are uniquely qualified to address. The rise in these trends has led to a significant increase in employment in this field.

The focus on oral health extends to all age groups, from children to seniors. While the younger population might need oral surgery due to accidental injuries or congenital issues, the older population seeks care for aging-related issues. The recognition of the importance of oral health in overall well-being has contributed to the growing demand for these professionals.

Technological advancement is another factor shaping the profession’s trends. The increasing use of technology in diagnostics and surgical procedures, such as 3D imaging and laser surgery, has improved patients’ outcomes and elevated the profession. Professionals are expected to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies to provide the highest standard of care.

Employment projections

Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, job opportunities for oral surgeons are expected to grow by 6% through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. This projection is primarily fueled by the demand for complex dental services, population growth, and greater recognition of the importance of oral health in overall well-being.

Oral surgeon career tips

Understand the nitty-gritty of the field

The versatility of your role reaches beyond dental procedures, extending to the diagnosis and surgical management of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, face, and neck. Gain a comprehensive understanding of oral pathology, anesthesia, pain control, and advanced surgical procedures. Familiarize yourself with new surgical equipment and technologies to stay at the forefront of your field.


Consider specializing in an area of oral surgery that aligns with your interests and career goals, such as cosmetic oral surgery, reconstructive oral surgery, oral pathology, or dental implants. Specializing allows you to narrow your focus and develop in-depth knowledge and skills in a particular area, positively impacting your professional growth and attracting patients seeking specialized care.

Engage in continuous education

The field of oral surgery is continually evolving with new research, techniques, and technologies. Regular participation in continuous education can keep your knowledge and skills updated. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Enroll in advanced training courses or workshops in areas of interest
  • Attend seminars and conferences on oral surgery
  • Read journals and books related to oral surgery

Join relevant associations and professional networks

Membership in a professional association gives you access to a network of individuals in your field and provides learning opportunities, sources for research, and avenues for involvement in issues related to the profession. These associations offer resources and support specific to your role:

  • American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
  • International Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation

Seek board certification

Achieving board certification attracts patients and boosts professional standing. The American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery offers a well-respected certification showing a commitment to your profession and the highest standards of care in the field.

Adopt technology in your practice

Modern technology offers various avenues for improvements in patient care, diagnosis, surgical precision, and recovery. Implementing advanced technology in your practice, such as 3D imaging for comprehensive views of oral and facial structures and computer-guided surgery for improved accuracy, can set your services apart and further refine your surgical expertise.

Where the oral surgeon jobs are

Top employers

  • Aspen Dental
  • Western Dental & Orthodontics
  • Affordable Care, Inc.
  • ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers
  • American Dental Partners, Inc.

Top states

  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • DoctorCPR.com
  • Health eCareers
  • LinkedIn


What type of education is required to become an oral surgeon?

Those interested in the field should begin with a bachelor’s degree, typically in a science-related field, like biology or chemistry. Following this, aspiring professionals must complete dental school, which typically takes four years and leads to a DDS or DMD. After dental school, an additional 4 to 6 years of specialty training in an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency program is required.

Is a specific certification required to work as an oral surgeon?

After completion of specialty training, they may choose to become board certified. The most recognized certification comes from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. This is not legally required but can enhance their career prospects and professional reputation.

What are the duties and responsibilities of an oral surgeon?

In addition to routine dental surgeries, these professionals are responsible for diagnosing and treating defects, injuries, and diseases involving the head, mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, and neck. They perform complex procedures such as bone grafting, dental implants, and facial reconstruction and can even administer anesthesia during medical procedures.

What skills are required to be successful as an oral surgeon?

Skills required for this role include manual dexterity, patience, physical stamina, and excellent eye-hand coordination. Good interpersonal skills are also important as they must communicate effectively with patients, explain complex medical conditions and procedures, and provide reassurance during stressful situations.

What is the work environment like for an oral surgeon?

They typically work in clean, well-lit environments such as hospitals, dental clinics, and academia. These professionals are typically on their feet for long periods and may work long hours, including nights and weekends, depending on where they’re employed. They must also follow strict safety protocols to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Is it possible to teach while being a practicing oral surgeon?

Yes, it is quite common for them to hold teaching positions in dental schools while maintaining a surgical practice. Being involved in academia allows them to share their knowledge and experience with future professionals in the field.

Can oral surgeons perform general dentistry practices as well?

Yes, they are qualified dentists before they begin their surgical specialty training, so they certainly have the skills and knowledge to perform general dentistry practices. However, given their specialized training, they usually focus on surgical procedures within the oral and maxillofacial region.

What are the risks and stresses associated with an oral surgeon’s job?

The role can be stressful due to long hours and the high degree of precision required during surgical procedures. Additionally, the job may involve dealing with emergency cases, which can be stressful. Physical risks include disease exposure, especially through accidental needle pricks or cuts during surgery.

Can oral surgeons specialize in specific areas?

Yes, many choose to focus their practices on a specific area, such as pediatrics, craniomaxillofacial trauma, cancer-related disorders, or craniofacial surgery. Specializing allows them to develop deeper expertise in a given area of the field.

Are there opportunities for continuing education as an oral surgeon?

Continuing education is an integral part of this profession. They can participate in conferences, workshops, and trainings to keep up with advancements in their field. Many professional organizations, such as the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, offer courses and resources for learning.