What is oral surgery? What to do before and after dental surgery?

Peter Dégallier

Written by Peter Dégallier RDH, Benjamin Wang DDS

An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a doctor that performs invasive surgical procedures on your mouth, teeth, jaws, and face. They are also trained to administer anesthesia, as most of the treatment they provide requires it.

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Oral surgeon vs. other dental specialists

Becoming an oral surgeon involves undergraduate study and 4 years of dental school followed by 4-6 additional years of surgical training. After that, surgeons complete a residency program. Total education is a minimum of 8-10 years, can last 12-14 years, and continues throughout the career.

Benjamin Wang

Benjamin Wang, DDS

After residency, some surgeons pursue further specialization with a fellowship of 2-3 years in areas such as craniofacial surgery, cosmetics, and head and neck oncology.

Going to an oral surgeon usually required a referral, typically provided by a general dentist. Such a document is necessary if you want to use your insurance.

What procedures are considered oral surgery?

Surgical tooth extraction

Picture by Authority Dental under CC 2.0 license

Oral surgery is a branch of dentistry. It includes any procedure that requires invasive treatment in and around the oral cavity and associated orofacial structures. Here are some common procedures that oral and maxillofacial surgeons do.

Complicated extraction

Complex tooth extractions are the most common reason why patients visit an OMS. Soft tissues are often cut and opened in order to extract troublesome dentition.

You may find that your general dentist refers you to an oral surgeon to remove:

  • wisdom or otherwise impacted teeth,
  • dentition that is beyond fixing due to a large cavity, failed root canal, root fracture or trauma,
  • primary teeth that obstruct permanent dentition,
  • teeth that need to be removed due to other orthodontic treatment, and
  • teeth that have oral pathology associated with them.

Implant placement

If you are considering dental implants, an appointment with an oral surgeon is likely. Some dentists also place them, as implants don’t require a separate specialization. More complicated cases might have to be done under intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.

Deeper forms of managing pain usually mean referral to an OMS.

Cleft lip and palate surgery

Fixing such issues is usually a series of procedures. In spite of how much can be achieved aesthetically, they also have practical benefits. When it comes to babies, on whom the surgeries are usually performed, it improves the ability to drink from a bottle or be nursed.

Jaw-related issues

Orthognathic surgery, as jaw corrective surgery is more professionally called, has a wide range of applications. If the jaws are misaligned or if you suffer from other irregularities, an oral surgeon is the one to fix them.

The benefits include increased comfort in speaking, eating, and breathing. It also carries dramatically improved aesthetics. This surgery is performed on those who:

  • have TMJD,
  • jaw dysfunction,
  • have suffered trauma on the jaws,
  • have malocclusion or an otherwise incorrect bite,
  • suffer from bruxism, and
  • whose jaw is out of proportion with their face.

Cancer treatment

Certain forms of cancer fall into the scope of an OMS’ expertise. This includes any cancers of the neck and face. Oropharyngeal cancer may also have to be treated by an oral surgeon.

Typical treatment includes surgery under anesthesia. After physical cutting out of the cancerous cells, radiotherapy often follows under the watchful eye of a radiologist.

Facial surgery

Oral surgeons have a background in surgery and dentistry. This means they can perform procedures on the face. Those often have both aesthetic and functional applications.

The most common ones are facelifts, eyelid surgery, and rhinoplasty. The last is commonly referred to as a nose job.

Sleep apnea

This breathing disorder is problematic when the patient is asleep. Chronic in nature, it is commonly caused by some kind of obstruction in the airway. The issue is usually explained by excess tissue that can be surgically removed.

Oral surgery preparation

Surgery is more complicated than routine procedures at the dentist. That’s why your first step in preparation should be finding an experienced specialist. To do that you can use the top dentist near me service. The goal is to minimize potential risk of complications.

Preparation for oral surgery procedures may look different depending on the patient's general health, the procedure, and the surgeon. The rule of thumb is to adhere closely to personalized instructions your OMS provides.

Generally, oral surgery is quite invasive and requires some form of anesthesia. It is a good idea to stop eating for 8-12 hours prior. That way you won’t feel as nauseous after you come back around.

Brush your teeth and floss before going in. Do not smoke for at least 12 hours before the surgery. Dress practically in loose-fitting clothing that you don’t mind getting ruined. The short sleeves are a must if the anesthesia is administered via IV.

Do not wear jewelry or use unnecessary cosmetics.

Cancel your surgery if you feel nauseous, have a runny nose, a cough, or if you feel any symptoms of the flu. Trouble breathing is not an option under anesthesia.

  • DO

  • Fast 8-12 hours before the surgery

  • Brush and floss your teeth

  • Wear comfortable clothing

  • Bring lip balm

  • Tie up your hair if it’s long

  • Cancel if you feel flu symptoms

  • DO NOT

  • Wear jewelry

  • Put on makeup

  • Spray perfume or deodorant on yourself

Dental surgery aftercare

Recovering from oral surgery is the final step. Again, listening to your surgeon's instructions is key. You may want to take a couple of days off of work, avoid strenuous activities, and get plenty of sleep.

If you were put under you won’t be able to drive yourself home. Ask a family member or a friend to accompany you or pick you up.

Plan your meals out so that there is no food difficult to chew. Soft foods are a good idea after any surgery around your mouth. Avoid anything spicy or acidic for a few days as well. Those can irritate your gums while they are healing.

Do not use a straw, especially after procedures like tooth extractions. The sucking can pull sutures away from the wound or dislodge the clot. Under no circumstance can you smoke for at least 48 hours.

Use ice and painkillers to numb discomfort that may appear after anesthesia starts to wear off. Some specialists even recommend taking them a little earlier, to avoid pain altogether.

If you experience swelling take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory product like Advil.


Is oral surgery dangerous?

There is minimal risk involved if you choose an experienced specialist and listen to his or her instructions carefully. You must adhere to those directions without question. Most complications are patient-oriented.

How much does oral surgery cost?

Oral surgery is rather expensive. Of course, it depends on what you need done and your location. Invasive procedures are often a lot more expensive in larger cities.

Contact your insurance provider ahead of time to find out if you qualify for coverage. If so, you must collect documentation like X-rays and doctor’s statements to prove the surgery was medically necessary.

Can you visit an oral surgeon with no insurance?

You can make an appointment with any doctor without insurance, but it is likely to cost you a lot.


  1. Training Pathways in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Across the Globe—A Mini Review - NCBI
  2. Impacted Teeth: An Interdisciplinary Perspective - NIH
  3. Outpatient versus Inpatient Primary Cleft Lip and Palate Surgery: Analysis of Early Complications - PubMed
  4. Orthognathic Surgery: General Considerations - NCBI
  5. Surgery for Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancer - Cancer
  6. Fasting Before Anesthesia: An Unsettled Dilemma - IARS
  7. Tobacco smoking and surgical healing of oral tissues: a review - PubMed