Oral and maxillofacial surgery is an area of surgery to correct a wide spectrum of diseases, injuries and defects in the head, neck, jaws and the hard and soft tissues of the face. It is a recognized international surgical specialty, and it is one of the nine specialties of dentistry recognized by the American Dental Association.
Oral Surgeons: Changing Lives with a Smile
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons train alongside medical residents in internal medicine, general surgery and anesthesiology and also spend time in otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), plastic surgery, emergency medicine and intensive care. Their training focuses almost exclusively on the hard and soft tissue of the face, mouth and jaws, and their knowledge and surgical expertise uniquely qualify them to diagnose and treat the functional and esthetic conditions in this part of the body.
Types of Surgery
Corrective Jaw Surgery
Corrective jaw or orthognathic surgery is performed when the upper jaw, lower jaw and/or chin are malaligned leading to inappropriate alignment of the teeth. The jaws are surgically repositioned to correct these skeletal and dental irregularities. The surgery in performed in a hospital setting. Your surgeon works closely with an orthodontist to ensure proper alignment and esthetics of the teeth. This type of surgery can improve facial esthetics, chewing, speaking and breathing. Difficulty chewing or biting food, excessive wear of teeth, a receding chin, a protruding jaw or a diagnosis of sleep apnea may indicate the need for corrective jaw surgery.
Cleft lip and cleft palate result when some or portions of the mouth and nasal cavity do not grow together properly during fetal development. The result is a gap in the lip or a split in the opening in the roof of the mouth connecting the nose and mouth. Until it is treated with surgery, a cleft palate can cause problems with feeding, speech and tooth development. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons work as part of a team of health care specialists to correct these problems through a series of treatments and surgical procedures over many years.
Maxillofacial injuries or facial trauma encompass any injury to the mouth, face and jaw. One of the most common types of serious injury to the face occurs when bones are broken. Fractures can involve the lower jaw, upper jaw, nose, cheekbones, eye sockets, forhead or combinations of these bones. These injuries can affect facial form, vision, the ability to breathe, speak and swallow. Because of this, the expertise of the oral and maxillofacial surgeon is indispensable. If fractures are identified, your surgeon will recommend the appropriate conservative treatment or surgical therapy in the hospital. Avoiding injury is always best, so it is extremely important to use seat belts, protective mouth guards and appropriate masks and helmets for everyone who participates in athletic pursuits at any level.
Temporomandibular Joint Surgery
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a small joint located in front of the ear where the skull and lower jaw meet and allows the lower jaw to move and function. If you experience jaw pain, earaches, headaches, a limited ability to open or close your mouth, clicking or grating sounds, you may have Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). TMD treatment may range from conservative care to complex surgery. If non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if there is clear joint damage, surgery may be indicated which can involve either arthroscopy(examination and surgery of the joint) or repair of damaged tissue by a direct surgical approach.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons recommend that everyone perform an oral cancer self-exam each month. If you notice white or red patches, an abnormal lump, chronic sores, a sore throat or hoarseness or difficulty chewing or swallowing, you should contact your oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Your surgeon is trained to identify worrisome areas and will biopsy(remove a piece) of the area to have it examined more closely. If oral cancer is diagnosed your surgeon will work closely with a team of other physicians to provide the optimal treatment which may involve surgery and other modalities.