Oral and maxillofacial surgeons have a unique set of knowledge and skills that enables them to diagnose and treat a number of disparities of the head and neck region. These dental professionals are surgically trained in a hospital-based residency program alongside medical residents, focusing on the complexity of the anatomical facial structures, specifically the mouth and jaw.
Richard Bauer, DMD, M.D.
Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine
Staff Surgeon, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- What does your typical day look like? Did any aspects of your job surprise you?
In oral surgery, no two days are exactly the same and cases will vary week to week. I teach in the multidisciplinary implant center and oral surgery departments where I oversee clinical cases presented by dental students and residents. Additionally, I work in a faculty practice where I evaluate patients pre-operatively and post-operatively and perform cases involving implants, bone grafts, corrective jaw surgery and extractions. A portion of my week is dedicated to cases that are performed in the hospital operating rooms. These cases typically deal with more complex surgeries, such as reconstructive jaw procedures and medically complex patients.
Treating patients can be immensely rewarding. You are able to witness a transformation from beginning to end and the ability to create a lasting impact on your patients has been truly fulfilling.
- Why did you choose to pursue this career path?
I chose this career path after exploring all other specialty options between my first and second year of dental school. I actively shadowed other dental specialties on my weekends while going to school so that I was aware of all of my options and found what fit my interests. Oral surgery intrigued me because of the variety it provided. The ability to work in a hospital as well as in an office was something that greatly interested me.
- What additional training, credentials or licenses are required beyond dental school for your career? What additional training would you recommend beyond what is required?
Four years of dental school are required prior to an oral surgery residency program. Residency programs vary in length ranging from four to six years of additional training after dental school. The six-year route incorporates a medical degree, which provides an opportunity to gain clinical exposure in medical clerkships. Fellowships after residency are recommended to those interested in sub-specializing in areas of oral surgery such as: cleft and craniofacial surgeries, head and neck cancer, and facial cosmetics.
- What challenges present themselves frequently in your specialty?
The major challenge I encounter is the burden of financial debt from education. This is not necessarily an issue isolated to oral surgery, rather dental/medical education as a whole. Another challenge is finding the balance of providing the best patient care possible and managing the cost of doing so.
- What makes your field unique?
What makes oral surgery unique is how it incorporates dentistry and medicine. You have the ability work in an office and in a hospital setting on a regular basis. Procedures can be done in the operating room or office and patients are cared for on an inpatient and outpatient basis. It adds variety to your practice and enables you to see a broad spectrum of patients on a day-to-day basis.
- What skills are especially important in your field?
Manual dexterity is very important in the field of oral surgery. But what I find equally important is the ability to show compassion and communicate effectively with your patients. We want to make sure that the patients are truly informed about what is going on with their treatment plans and that they are able to understand what their surgery entails.
- What are current trends in your field? In what ways is it advancing?
Technology has advanced the field of oral surgery with the ability to now plan jaw surgeries in 3D with the use of CT scans and specialized computer programs. Corrective jaw surgery can effectively be done on a computer, which enables the oral surgeon to virtually perform bone movements and print splints to assist in the actual surgery. The use of computer generated guides has also improved implant surgeries.
- What advice would you give to somebody interested in your career path?
I would recommend knowing what the profession entails. Shadowing oral surgeons as well as talking to current residents in the training process will give you a better understanding of the field as well as the lifestyle. It is important to also research different practice models and understand the different avenues that are available after residency. I would suggest that you make an informed decision about your future career and continue maintaining a good work/life balance.