What is a Maxillofacial Surgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on July 09, 2023
3 min read

Maxillofacial surgeons, sometimes called oral and maxillofacial surgeons, are trained to handle a wide variety of conditions and injuries that affect the head, neck, mouth, jaw, and face.

Maxillofacial surgeons are qualified to treat a number of conditions related to the head and neck area, including:

These surgeons are also trained in anesthesia and pain control, with a focus on anesthesia that allows you to walk out of the office at the end of your appointment. 

In general, maxillofacial surgeons perform surgeries to correct problems or make cosmetic changes. These surgeries are generally outpatient procedures. They will also provide you with a course for recovery after the surgery and may offer follow-up appointments.

Maxillofacial surgeons are medical doctors who are specifically trained in the field of maxillofacial surgery. Because of the focus on the oral area, typically maxillofacial surgeons attend dental school first for four years after receiving their bachelor’s degree. 

After graduating from dental school, maxillofacial surgeons then complete:

  • A four- to six-year residency period in which the dentist studies surgery specifically. The six-year potential period includes spending an additional two years to receive a medical degree in addition to their dental degree.
  • An exam to become certified by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
  • If the surgeon wants to specialize, they can then go on to complete a two-year fellowship and exam in cosmetic facial surgery, head and neck cancer, craniofacial surgery and pediatrics, or cranio-maxillofacial trauma. 

A maxillofacial surgeon may treat a number of conditions. Maxillofacial surgeons treat many of the same conditions as oral surgeons; in fact, depending on the doctor, the terms may be interchangeable. Regardless of the term, maxillofacial surgeons use their expertise to handle moderately invasive procedures in the face and neck.

Dental Implants

Maxillofacial surgeons can remove teeth and replace them with synthetic options. These implants remain in your jaw permanently, acting as a replacement tooth. They may have health or cosmetic benefits. 

Reconstructive or Reparative Surgery

These surgeons can shave bones, readjust joints, or even help reconstruct broken sockets. If your face or jaw are broken or misaligned, they can help repair it and reduce your discomfort. 

Cleft Lip or Palate

Some birth defects can lead to cleft lips and palates. This condition can have both cosmetic and health effects on a person for life. Maxillofacial surgeons can help repair this type of birth defect through surgery. 

There are a few reasons you might see a maxillofacial surgeon. Your dentist or doctor may refer you to them, or if you are injured. they may be one of your emergency care doctors. Here are a few reasons why people end up seeing a maxillofacial surgeon.

Skeletal Problems

Most maxillofacial surgeons work at least in part to help correct skeletal problems such as misaligned jaws. If you have chronic temporomandibular joint pain, known as TMJ, your dentist may refer you to a maxillofacial surgeon. 

Facial, Oral, or Neck Cancer

Cancers of the face, neck, and jaw are often removed by maxillofacial surgeons. These specialists have the training to remove the tumor without damaging the delicate nerves that run throughout your head and neck. 

Reconstructive Surgery

If you get in an accident and injure your face, you may end up getting maxillofacial surgery. Some of these surgeons specialize in reconstructive surgery to repair broken jaws, cheekbones, and teeth. Maxillofacial surgeons can also insert dental implants to replace teeth that are lost entirely. 

Cosmetic Surgery

Finally, maxillofacial surgeons can also treat cosmetic problems. If you are interested in getting dental implants or simply changing the profile of your face, you may end up working with one of these doctors to achieve your appearance goals.