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An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is a dentist or doctor specializing in oral surgery procedures and surgeries on the neck, head, and jaw. These specialists train for many years and progress through a variety of education venues before they are certified in this profession. To become a maxillofacial surgeon, a person must complete a college education, attend dental school, and then attend a residency program before receiving board certification. After completion of the residency, a surgeon has additional options for sub-specialization.
During college, the choice of a major to become a dentist is flexible, but studies should include a strong science focus. Topics to study include biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and math through the calculus level. Students who want to become a maxillofacial surgeon should also consider taking anatomy. A science major can be attractive, but dentistry school also accepts majors in the arts, liberal arts or other fields, if a student has also taken the right science and math classes.
The strong science focus in college is recommended as preparation for the science classes in dental school and also to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT). This test is analogous to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). It’s necessary in places like the U.S. to get a good score on the DAT in order to obtain admission to a dental school. A high DAT score, good grades, and strong recommendations are all needed for dental school admission, which is, in turn, required to ultimately become a maxillofacial surgeon.
Dental school requires four years of study and practice before a student can become board certified as a dentist. This is not the endpoint for the student who would like to become a maxillofacial surgeon. Graduating dentists must then seek entrance to a residency program in this specialty, and they have at least two options. They may seek a four-year program ending in certification as an oral or maxillofacial surgeon, or they can participate in a six-year program that certifies surgeons in this specialty and also results in a medical degree.
Some surgeons continue studies for one to two more years to earn expertise in a subspecialty of oral and maxillofacial surgery. They can specialize in craniofacial or pediatric craniofacial repairs. Other subspecialty options are plastics, treatment of cancer, or treatments for extreme trauma to the bones or tissue of the neck or head.
The length of time it takes to become a maxillofacial surgeon can vary. Students opting not to become doctors or take on a subspecialty will study for 12 years, counting the undergraduate degree. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon with an M.D. and expertise in a subspecialty might spend 16 years in school, residency, and fellowship programs.