Oral surgery refers to any surgical procedure performed on your teeth, gums, jaws or other oral structures. This includes extractions, implants, gum grafts and jaw surgeries. Oral surgery is usually performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or a periodontist. These are dental specialists who have advanced training in oral surgery procedures.
Oral surgery is a broad term for any operation performed on your teeth, gums, jaw or surrounding oral and facial structures. It includes a wide range of procedures, including teeth extractions, dental bone grafts, periodontal (gum) grafts and corrective jaw surgery.
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You could need oral surgery for a number of reasons. Your dentist might recommend it if you have:
There are several types of oral surgery procedures performed each year. Some of the most common include tooth extraction, dental bone grafts, dental implants, periodontal surgery, corrective jaw surgery, sleep apnea surgery and cleft lip and palate repair.
The most common type of oral surgery is tooth extraction (tooth removal). An extraction might be recommended if you have severe tooth decay, gum disease (periodontitis), dental trauma or wisdom teeth complications. Sometimes tooth extractions are performed to prepare you for dentures or other prosthetic devices.
Most dentists prefer to save natural teeth when possible, but sometimes extractions are necessary to preserve your overall oral health. Additionally, many dentists recommend wisdom tooth extraction as a preventative measure to reduce your risk for cavities, bone loss and other problems.
A dental bone graft is necessary when bone loss has occurred in your jaw. There are a couple of reasons why this may occur. When your natural teeth are present, the roots stimulate the nerves in your jaw. This signals your brain to send nutrients to your jaw, keeping it strong and healthy. If a tooth has been missing for some time, bone deterioration can occur in that area because there are no roots to stimulate the nerves. A dental bone graft restores volume and density in your jawbone so that dental implants can be placed later on.
Sometimes, your provider might place a bone graft during periodontal surgery. Advanced gum disease can cause the bone around your teeth to erode. A bone graft reduces mobility and provides a solid foundation, keeping your teeth strong and healthy.
Dental implants are widely considered the most reliable and longest-lasting teeth replacement option available. These small threaded posts — made of medical-grade titanium or zirconia — are embedded into your jaw to replace missing teeth roots. Once the implants are healed, they can be restored with dental crowns, dental bridges or dentures.
If you have moderate or severe periodontitis, a gum specialist may recommend gum disease treatment. During this procedure, incisions are made along your gum line and the tissue is temporarily moved back away from your teeth. Your surgeon will then clean your teeth roots, flushing away plaque and bacteria that have accumulated under your gums. Finally, the gum tissue is repositioned and sutured into place.
Sometimes, gum recession can occur as a result of periodontitis. In these instances, you may need a gum graft. During this procedure, your surgeon reinforces the area of tissue loss with donor tissue. This tissue may be taken from the roof of your mouth or purchased at a certified tissue bank.
Corrective jaw surgery — also called orthognathic surgery — addresses skeletal abnormalities of your jaw bones. This procedure may be recommended to improve chewing function, correct misalignment or address facial imbalances. Corrective jaw surgery is also used to ease pain caused by TMJ dysfunction (TMD).
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the tissues in the back of your throat fall back and block your airway during sleep. Sometimes OSA is successfully treated with conservative methods, such as oral appliance therapy or using a CPAP machine. However, severe cases may require surgical intervention.
A baby born with cleft lip has an opening in their upper lip, while a baby born with cleft palate has an opening in the roof of their mouth. Some babies are born with both conditions. Cleft lip and palate occur when the facial structures don’t fully develop in the uterus. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons commonly perform cleft lip and palate repair to restore normal eating function and help a child develop proper speech patterns later on in life.
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon performs surgery on the mouth, jaw and face. A periodontist, or gum specialist, performs surgery on the gums and bones that support your teeth. Both oral surgeons and periodontists must undergo three to four years of additional training after they graduate from dental school.
Your healthcare provider will perform a comprehensive evaluation to check your teeth, gums, jaw joints and surrounding structures. They will also take dental X-rays and scans to get a clear view of your teeth roots, jawbone, nerves and other important oral landmarks. Using this information, they’ll tailor a personalized treatment plan.
Sometimes, oral surgery is performed in a dental office as an outpatient procedure. Your surgeon may offer sedation options for your comfort, including nitrous oxide, oral medications or intravenous (IV) moderate or deep sedation. In other cases, oral surgery may be completed in a hospital under general anesthesia.
The length of your procedure will depend on several factors, including what type of oral surgery you’re having, how many teeth are being treated and whether or not you choose sedation. A one-tooth extraction usually takes about 30 minutes, while a more involved procedure — such as corrective jaw surgery — typically takes at least two to three hours.
Following your oral surgery procedure, you’ll be given detailed post-operative instructions. It’s important that you follow these guidelines closely to reduce your risk of bleeding, infection and other complications.
When it comes to insurance, most oral surgery falls under dental benefits. However, there are times when oral surgery is covered under medical insurance. For example, if you’ve been involved in an accident and require oral surgery in a hospital setting, it will likely be covered by your medical insurance. Plans and policies vary, though, so ask your healthcare provider for details. In short, medical insurance will cover some oral surgery procedures, but not all of them.
Your teeth, gums and jaw joints all work together harmoniously for optimal oral health and function. The overarching goal of oral surgery is to address any issue that interferes with your health or quality of life.
As with any procedure, you should be aware of any risks or complications associated with oral surgery. These may include:
You can minimize your risk for these complications by following your post-operative guidelines and taking all medications as prescribed. If you develop any of these side effects, call your healthcare provider for further instructions.
Healing times will vary from person to person, but most people feel like themselves again in about one week. The more extensive your oral surgery, the more time it will take to recover. During this time, your healthcare provider will give you medications to keep you comfortable.
Most people can return to work or school within one to three days. For more extensive procedures, such as corrective jaw surgery, it could take a bit longer.
To promote healing, avoid hard and crunchy foods after oral surgery. Instead, keep your fridge and pantry stocked with soft foods like yogurt, soup, pasta, mashed potatoes, fish, pudding, eggs and rice. For a cool treat, try popsicles, ice cream and milkshakes. Cold foods can help soothe the surgical area.
If you have tooth, gum or jaw pain, schedule an appointment with your provider right away. If you’ve recently undergone oral surgery and you develop pain that doesn’t go away with medication, a fever of 100.4 F or higher or drainage at the surgical site, call your surgeon immediately. These warning signs could indicate infection, which must be treated promptly.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Modern surgical technologies help your surgeon provide advanced care using less invasive methods. Oral surgery can restore the health of your teeth, gums and jaw joints, ease your painful symptoms and give you an improved quality of life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/18/2021.
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