Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery FAQ
Oral and maxillofacial dentistry usually involves surgery. This can make it pretty intimidating for dental patients. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions that may help ease your mind and help you make informed decisions. Remember to ask your oral surgeon to explain any recommended procedure in plain language. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion since most oral surgeries are irreversible.
Can anyone undergo oral surgery?
As with any surgery, some patients are better candidates than others. You are probably a good candidate if you:
- Are in good health with no significant medical problems
- Are not allergic to the medications or anesthetics typically used in oral surgery
- Don’t smoke or use smokeless tobacco products
- Have an oral or dental problem that can’t be effectively treated with non-invasive therapies
Medical conditions that interfere with blood clotting and/or wound healing may make you a poor candidate for oral and maxillofacial surgery. Examples include high blood pressure and diabetes. If you are a smoker, you should quit before you have oral surgery. You may need additional monitoring during surgery to avoid complications if you have a health problem.
When should you contact an oral surgeon?
Your dentist will typically give you a referral to an oral surgeon if you have a problem such as an impacted wisdom tooth, a failed root canal, TMJ or signs of a cyst or tumor in your mouth. You may also contact an oral surgeon if you have a defect or trauma to any part of your face, jaw, mouth or neck. Typically, oral and maxillofacial surgery is reserved for cases that involve:
- Severe or chronic pain
- Loss of function
- Disease (such as an extensive abscess or cancer)
How long does recovery take after oral surgery?
This depends on the extent of the surgery and what tissues are involved. Gum tissue can heal up in about a month (and usually doesn’t feel uncomfortable after about a week). In contrast, bone can take six months or more to fully heal. You should be prepared to take at least a few days off after oral surgery. You will need someone to drive you home after an operation since most forms of sedation used in oral and maxillofacial surgery can make it difficult for you to drive safely. Following post-procedure instructions to relieve pain, manage swelling and prevent infection can help you recover more quickly. You will probably need to avoid certain foods and beverages after oral surgery to limit discomfort.
What are some of the side effects associated with oral and maxillofacial surgery?
Patients experience side effects such as bruising, swelling, and discomfort after oral surgery. These are typically managed with over-the-counter or prescription pain medications and ice packs. These side effects are usually not dangerous and should subside over time. Oral surgery does carry a risk of more serious complications including:
- Excessive bleeding
- Wound infection
- Nerve damage (this may be temporary or permanent)
You should call your oral surgeon right away if you notice any symptoms of these complications.
Is oral surgery the only option for treatment?
In many cases, you may have several options. Here are a few examples:
- You may choose to leave an impacted wisdom tooth intact if it is not causing discomfort, tooth decay or gum irritation. Just be aware that removal becomes more difficult as your jaw bone density increases with age.
- For TMJ, your dentist will recommend a variety of treatment before suggesting surgery. You might be advised to use cold or hot compresses, NSAIDs, physical therapy or a night guard to reduce stress and inflammation in the jaw.
- If you have a missing tooth and a dental implant is out of your price range, you may opt for a bridge instead. This approach does not involve surgery of the gum and bone. However, it does entail removing healthy tooth structure from the teeth on either side of the gap so they can be fitted with crowns to support the bridge.
The best way to avoid having to see an oral and maxillofacial specialist is by practicing good oral hygiene. See your dentist yearly for an exam to identify disease or decay before it spreads. Get any dental issues fixed right away before they begin impacting the bones and gums.