An Overview of Maxillofacial Surgery
Maxillofacial surgery is an umbrella term that encompasses surgical treatment of a variety of diseases, defects and injuries that occur in the head, neck, face, or jaw. It might be in the hard or soft mouth tissues, in the maxillofacial (jaw/face) area, or on the neck.
Maxillofacial surgery is a term used around the world. In the U.S., it’s considered a dentistry specialty. In other countries, such as the UK, it’s considered a medical specialty.
In U.S., maxillofacial surgery is regulated by the American Dental Association. In other areas of the world, it’s regulated as a specialty under medicine. Usually, a maxillofacial surgeon has received training in dentistry, surgery and medicine. Subspecialties within maxillofacial surgery exist, including: cosmetic facial surgery, cranio-maxillofacial trauma, craniofacial surgery, head and neck cancer, and maxillofacial reconstruction.
There are a number of surgeries that may be performed under the maxillofacial specialty (dental implants and wisdom teeth). Cosmetic surgery of the head and neck may entail rhytidectomy (facelift), rhinoplasty (nose job), chin augmentation, lip enhancement, and even seemingly basic procedures like Botox injections. A cosmetic surgeon may actually have a degree in maxillofacial surgery, although that isn’t commonly known to patients.
Dentoalveolar surgery is also conducted by these specialists, which is a surgery that removes impacted teeth, bone grafting of the jaw in preparation for implants, denture placement, and difficult tooth extractions. Most people consider this type of surgery to fall under the realm of a dentist, and it does—there’s some overlap between dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons.
Maxillofacial surgeons may also work with patients to address sleep apnea. These surgeons are the go-to experts to diagnose cysts and tumors in the head, neck, and jaws. Skin cancer of the face and scalp, birth defects like cleft lips and palate, chronic facial pain disorders, TMJ, and jaw surgery to correct a bad bite.
Usually, people see a dentist for regular oral hygiene upkeep, but if something more in-depth is in order, that’s when maxillofacial surgeons step in. They also address the surgical correction of facial asymmetry, and correct soft and hard tissue trauma of the face (such as a cheek bone fracture or eye socket fracture).
Prepping for a Specialty
In the United States, a maxillofacial surgeon is required to undergo a four-year residency or a six-year residency in order to get both a medical degree and a specialty. A fellowship often follows residency. Most American maxillofacial surgeons are in school for 12-14 years, ensuring only the best care for patients who find themselves in need of such a specialist.