What is an Oral Surgeon

Maladies and malfunctions of the teeth, gums, jaw, and face are the purview of oral surgeons, sometimes called maxillofacial surgeons. Oral surgeons are not dentists, and dentists are not oral surgeons. While both a dentist and oral surgeon attend dentistry school, and while each may occasionally perform a similar procedure, a dentist handles only basic procedures—such as cleaning, scraping, pulling cavities, etc.—an oral surgeon is trained to execute more complicated operations, such as cleft palette procedures, jaw surgeries, dental implants, or facial reconstructive surgeries. For more on job duties, please visit our oral surgeon job description page.

Work Environment

The vast majority of oral surgeons work out of private practice offices. Oral surgeons often partner with dentists; so, many oral surgeries are performed in the operating room of a dentist’s office—surgeries that are scheduled and planned ahead of time. Some oral surgeons work as part of a hospital network but still operate out of a separate office, performing procedures much the way a private practice oral surgeon would (scheduled ahead of time and performed during normal business hours). A smaller percentage of oral surgeons serve as full time staff members at a hospital, handling more complex surgeries that may become necessary as a result of trauma and other emergency circumstances. An oral surgeon practicing in a rural area may operate a private practice but also assist the hospital in the case of emergencies, due to lack of a full-time oral surgeon on the hospital staff.

Work Schedule

The work hours of oral surgeons vary widely depending on where the surgeon is employed. As mentioned above, an oral surgeon will most likely work out of a private office, in which case he or she would enjoy a rather normal 40 hour nine-to-five work schedule. Over thirty percent of oral surgeons are self-employed, meaning they set their own hours. An oral surgeon working in a hospital and performing emergency facial surgeries may have to work more sporadic hours. Hospital oral surgeons may have to even be available for overnight shifts, or at least be on call for emergency overnight surgeries. Some oral surgeons may work out of an office affiliated with a hospital network and primarily work regular nine-to-five shifts, while only being required to be on call for emergency surgeries every so often.

Mean Annual Oral Surgeon Salary

The average annual oral surgeon salary is $216,440 according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More than three-quarters of oral surgeons make at least $140,000; more than half earn at least $175,000; and more than a quarter earn $250,000 and up. The top five percent earners in the field of oral surgery make nearly half of one million dollars.

Oral Surgeon Job Outlook and Prospects

BLS reports suggest that oral surgeons can expect a plethora of job opportunities in the years ahead. Federal job officials calculate that the industry will expand by more than 16 percent by 2022. These projections put oral surgery as a rapidly expanding field when compared with most other career paths, but the industry growth rates also compare favorably to the growth rates of other medical specialty fields. Well-trained oral surgeons should have no trouble finding a job in the next decade and the ones to follow.

Oral Surgeon Salary: Factors of Influence

Oral surgeons are ensured a rather healthy salary because of their specialized skillset and the extra training necessary to develop those specific medical procedure abilities. Performing a range of surgical procedures, from facial reconstruction to jaw realignment, from tumor removal to teeth extraction, and so much more, an oral surgeon is an essential part of most successful dentistry operations, as well as comprehensive trauma units. Their specialized skills combined with the fact that they, like most specialized surgeons, are in high demand around the country, mean their salaries continue to grow.

Education and Specialization

After earning an undergraduate degree—preferably one feature pre-med coursework—those who wish to become an oral surgeon must complete dental school. Upon graduation from dentistry school, would-be oral and maxillofacial surgeons train a minimum of four years in a surgical residency program based in a hospital.

Trainees hone their oral surgical skills alongside residents who have recently graduated medical school and are training in internal medicine, general surgery and anesthesiology. These residents will also spend some time practicing in the fields of otolaryngology, plastic surgery, and emergency medicine.

Some oral surgeons may choose to continue their education and earn a medical or other advanced degree. Six-year residency programs grant dentistry school graduates an MD upon completion. Others, who want to specialize in very complex subset of the oral surgery field, may choose to train further as part of a fellowship focused on certain type of operation.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are special in that they are the only healthcare providers who are trained to administer all types of pre- and intra-surgery sedation and anesthesia—aside from anesthesiologists, of course.

Experience and Position

Oral surgeons with more specialized training will often make more money than their general-practicing peers. Specializing oral surgeons may undergo extra training and/or fellowship programs in order to perfect the skills required for specific types of surgery—typically a more complex type—such fixing cleft palettes, removing neck tumors, or performing face-lifts and nose-jobs. Regardless of the type of surgeries an oral surgeon trains and specializes in, the vast majority will end up working as part of a private practice, whether that’s as a partner in a dentistry office or as a specialist partner at a cosmetic surgery practice.

Thirty-plus percent of oral surgeons are self-employed, meaning they are running their own medical practices—either by themselves or as a partner with other surgeons or medical specialists. Some oral surgeons may work as a member of a hospital, performing facial reconstructive surgeries as part of a trauma unit. Almost every oral surgeon, even those that are self-employed, will likely work in conjunction with other healthcare specialists.

Aside from the obvious partnership of dentists and oral surgeons, an oral surgeon might also work in tandem with an oncologist in treating a patient’s cancer growths. Depending on the type of malady, an oral surgeon may be required to share information and coordinate treatment with any number of other medical specialists. Cooperation and teamwork is always part of the equation in healthcare, even when a specialist runs his own independent practice.


As the links between dental health and overall health becomes more tangible—as mouth-centric complications like gum disease are linked with other serious problems like heart disease, for example—dentists and oral surgeons role in maintaining good and proper long-term health is being more greatly emphasized by health professionals, researchers, scientists, and policy makers.

Furthermore, advancements in facial reconstructive surgeries and facial transplants continue to draw attention to the field. And as the industry continues to enjoy greater public exposure, and keeps on benefiting from a range of technological and procedural breakthroughs, the work of oral surgeons becomes more meaningful, more respected, and more well compensated than ever before.


Not surprisingly, states with large populations and major urban centers are the places where one is likely to find a high concentration of oral surgeons. As one might guess, California, Texas, and New York came in as the top three as far volume of oral surgeons goes. Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Maryland, made up the top three when oral surgeon populations were tallied a percentage of the workforce. If you want to practice oral surgery in a state featuring salaries above the average, Utah, Washington, and Tennessee are your best bets.

Oral Surgeon Salary State By State