How to Become an Oral Surgeon

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you’re interested in gaining an advanced degree in the field of dentistry, read on to learn more about how to become an oral surgeon.

Approximately 85% of people need to get their wisdom teeth removed during their lifetime. This routine procedure that millions of people have each year is performed by oral surgeons. These professionals are integral parts of the medical field and perform complex surgeries to help people maintain their oral health.

This guide will go into further detail about how to become an oral surgeon, what oral surgeons do, how much they make, and more.

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Steps to Becoming an Oral Surgeon

Considering these medical professionals are surgeons, you might be wondering, “how long does it take to become an oral surgeon?”

It’ll take at least 12 to 14 years to pursue this career. Here’s what these years will involve:

Step One: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

Since you’ll have to go to dental school in order to become an oral surgeon, the first step is to obtain an undergraduate degree at an accredited university. Ensure you research potential dental schools you’d like to apply to, so you can take the necessary prerequisite courses and complete all of their other admission requirements.

Most students opt to pursue a science-related major to make taking and excelling in these science prerequisites easy, but you can choose whichever major you feel you can maintain the highest grades in.

Step Two: Write the DAT

You should write your DAT while you’re in your sophomore or junior year of your undergraduate degree. This standardized test score is an essential part of your dental school application and will be weighed heavily in the admissions committee’s decisions. 

Ensure you create a solid study plan and give yourself enough time to retake the DAT to reach your target score.

Step Three: Go to Dental School

Once you’ve gotten into your dream dental school, you’ll spend the next four years completing your DDS or DMD. Your dental school curriculum will consist of you learning the fundamentals of general dentistry and completing significant clinical training to complement it.

Like your undergrad, it’s essential you maintain high grades during your dental education to help you in step four. You should also form close connections with your mentors to secure strong letters of recommendation for your residency and to help you have more opportunities post-graduation.

Step Four: Complete a Residency in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 

Once you’ve completed your DDS or DDM degree, you’re qualified to perform general dentistry and minor dental procedures, such as root canals or cavity fillings. However, to perform more complex surgeries, you need to complete a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

These residencies typically take four to six years to complete, depending on the type of training you wish to pursue. Six-year programs often also combine an MD, whereas four-year programs only focus on providing you with certification in oral surgery.

Step Five: Pass the INBDE

The final step before you can practice as an independent oral surgeon is to pass the INBDE. This exam assures dental students have the necessary knowledge and skills to practice dentistry. 

Depending on where you’re located, you may have to also pass state exams before you can begin working as an oral surgeon. 

What Does an Oral Surgeon Do?

Now that you know the extensive process required to become an oral surgeon, you might be wondering what your years of training will allow you to do. 

Oral surgeons perform several types of procedures, including: 

  • Tooth extractions: for tooth decay, wisdom tooth pain, dental trauma, or to fit dentures
  • Dental bone grafts: when bone loss occurs in the jaw
  • Dental implants: to replace missing teeth roots
  • Periodontal surgery: to treat gum disease
  • Corrective jaw surgery: to treat abnormalities in your jaw structure or function
  • Sleep apnea surgery: to correct the tissues that block your airways during sleep
  • Cleft lip and palate repair: to repair and restore normal eating and speech function
  • Biopsies: to test the pathology of conferencing tissues
  • Removal of tumors and bumps: the removal of both benign and malignant tumors
  • Cosmetic oral surgery: to improve the functional and esthetic function of the face and mouth
  • Reconstructive surgery: to rebuild the tissues or bone around the face, mouth, and jaw

Oral surgeons are also trained to administer anesthesia during surgical procedures. While oral surgeons are trained to fix teeth, jaws, and gums, they also learn how to treat issues in the tissues and facial parts linked to these areas, including the eye sockets, nasal cavities, and hard palates.

Oral surgeons typically work in hospitals or clinics.

Oral Surgeon Salary and Career Outlook

Another important factor to consider when deciding if this profession is right for you is to consider an oral surgeon's salary. Considering the amount of training required to become an oral surgeon; it’s no surprise that these medical professionals are paid well. 

On average, oral surgeons make $309,410 a year. These surgeons are also in demand, and their employment is expected to increase by about 12.3% in the next decade. 

Oral surgeons that work within clinics or dental offices are paid the most, with an average salary of $321,480.

FAQs: Becoming an Oral Surgeon

We’ve covered the basics of how to become an oral surgeon. If you have any remaining queries, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession.

1. Is Being an Oral Surgeon Hard?

Yes, the journey to becoming an oral surgeon, and the profession itself, is challenging. Not only will you spend at least 12 years competing for limited spots in dental school and dental residencies, but you’ll also be performing intricate surgeries on your patients and diagnosing complex diseases.

2. Where Do Oral Surgeons Make the Most Money?

Oral surgeons are paid the highest in Kentucky, where the average salary is $352,240

3. What Is the Most an Oral Surgeon Can Make?

Depending on their expertise, location, and work setting, oral surgeons can make well over $400,000. Those working in cosmetic clinics can make even more.

4. Is an Oral Surgeon the Same as a Dentist?

While oral surgeons are required to attend dental school and write the INBDE like dentists, they have more specialized training. Dentists can only perform minor dental surgeries, while oral surgeons have the expertise and training to perform major ones and administer general anesthesia. 

5. Where Do Oral Surgeons Work?

Oral surgeons typically work in dental clinics, private practices, surgical hospitals, outpatient centers, and cosmetic clinics.

6. How Long Does It Take to Become an Oral Surgeon?

It will take around 12 to 14 years to become an oral surgeon: four years to complete an undergraduate degree, four years to complete dental school, and four to six years to complete an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency.

Final Thoughts

After learning about an oral surgeon’s educational requirements and daily tasks, you should be able to decide if it's the right profession for you! While this path will be challenging and lengthy, it’ll lead to a high-paying, fulfilling career!

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