How to Become An Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

Should I Become an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon?

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons treat medical problems related to the mouth, jaw and head. Oral surgeons, who are specialist dental practitioners within the wider field of dentistry, operate on the jaws and mouth of patients. This is mostly done in conjunction with other surgeons, dentists and orthodontists.

Maxillofacial surgeons perform operations to treat birth defects and traumatic injuries sustained to the head (other than the brain). For instance, they can surgically repair and reconstruct the cleft palate to improve the functioning as well as appearance of a patient’s facial features. Maxillofacial surgeons also surgically move the lower and upper jaws, treat sleep apnea, repair broken bones in the head and neck, take care of facial fractures, etc.

Maxillofacial surgery is often studied and practiced together with oral surgery. Professionals in this role fix damaged teeth, carry out dental implants and treat cancerous tumors/tissues for biopsy. This piece will tell you what you should do to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.  


DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery); Surgical Residency

Fields of Study

Dental Surgery; Dentistry




Licensing available through the National Board Dental Examinations (for dentistry license) and the American Board of Maxillofacial Surgery (for oral and maxillofacial surgery license).



Key Skills

Critical thinking, complex problem solving, reading comprehension, judgment and decision making, active learning, finger dexterity, arm-hand steadiness, deductive reasoning, control precision, medical software, graphic design software, photo imaging software, customer and personal service.                                           

Annual Mean Salary

$242,370 (As of May, 2018)

Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for oral and maxillofacial surgeons are expected to increase by 7% to 10% between 2018 and 2020 (O*Net Online)

Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net Online

To become a successful oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you must have good administrative and supervisory skills. You must also be physically dexterous and have the ability to multitask often. For the maxillofacial surgery part, you must have a strong and steady hand with the ability to utilize small tools in a little space. This is important to ensure that all patients are being treated safely and properly. Strong communication skills are also essential if you want to make it as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Career Requirements

The first step on the road to becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon is completing an accredited Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program. This takes 4 years with program entry requirements varying from one school to another. Some require aspiring oral and maxillofacial surgeons to have completed a Bachelor’s degree while others only demand a specific number of credits. The latter can be earned in less than 4 years.

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) must also be taken and cleared to get into dental surgery. Once you have graduated from dental school, you must complete a residency which is likely to take between 4 to 6 years. After completing the residency, you will be eligible to apply for your license since most states require all oral and maxillofacial surgeons to be licensed.  

Steps to Become an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

The following process outlines what you need to do to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

1)    Complete a Bachelor’s Degree

Before you set foot in the world of dentistry and maxillofacial surgery, you must obtain an undergraduate degree. Depending upon which dentistry school you want to go to, you might also be able to apply with only a few specific credits.

2)    Study for a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree)

After getting your undergraduate degree, you can apply to dental school by taking the Dental Admission Test (DAT). It will take you about 4 years to complete your DDS degree.

3)    Complete Residency Training

Once you are done with the DDS degree, you will have to undergo residency training (4 to 6 years) in a hospital. Many of these programs enable residents to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. You can also train further in your area of specialization by completing a fellowship (1 to 2 years) after the residency. 

4)    Obtain Your License

To be licensed as a dentist, you will have to pass the National Board Dental Examinations. For the oral and maxillofacial surgery certification, you need to apply with the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

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