February 7, 2012
Dr. Bruce Pynn’s patients sometimes become puzzled when they hear he is an oral surgeon. “I’ll be stitching up someone in the Emergency Department who has a nasty facial laceration and they’ll be asking, ‘Why’d they call in a dentist?’” Dr. Pynn said. He added that although it can be a little frustrating explaining to every patient what he does, he can understand their confusion. “We’re not dentists, but we’re not general surgeons either,” he said. It’s a common misperception. His correct title is “Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon” which might help clear things up. In other words, Dr. Pynn is trained not just in dental surgery but in head and facial surgery as well including facial reconstruction, bone grafts, and yes, stitching major facial lacerations. It is a speciality in itself that covers a wide range of surgical expertise. In fact, the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) service at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre treats almost all facial traumas in the region. Dr. Pynn took an extra five years of surgical training, just as a general surgeon takes more years of training after medical school. The main difference is that oral surgeons are trained through a dentistry program, and are members of the Ontario Dental Association instead of the Ontario Medical Association.
Oral surgeons play a key role in Northwestern Ontario. Currently there is one plastic surgeon, three ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeons, and two oral surgeons – Dr. Pynn and Dr. Shawn Higashi – in Thunder Bay. Together they serve the region from the Manitoba border to Timmins. And they’re busy. The OMFS service provides emergency coverage and is responsible for many of the initial surgeries and postoperative reconstructive care. In all, they see about 100 cases per year, and are called to the Emergency Department virtually every weekend. It is one of the busiest OMFS services in the province. Most of those surgeries come as a result of bar fights (what you talkin’ ’bout Willis?), Dr. Pynn said, but facial injuries come from a wide variety of sources including motor vehicle collisions, snowmobile accidents, rampant tooth decay, and sport injuries. They also see many facial injuries unique to the area like motor vehicle collisions involving moose and injuries to the face caused by chainsaws (of the Texas…..massacre kind). Usually facial traumas are complex cases that can take months or even years of treatment involving not just the teeth and jaw but also cheekbones, eye sockets, and the skull.
Oral surgeons often work with other specialists like neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, ENT surgeons, ophthalmologists, and others. For example, last year Dr. Pynn worked with neurosurgeon Dr. Iftikharul Haq to insert the region’s first skull implant. Dr. Pynn himself has published many articles, bringing to light the high incidence of facial injuries in Northwestern Ontario among other things. Recently, he returned from the 20th International Conference on Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in Santiago, Chile where he gave a presentation on the types of injuries that occur in Northwestern Ontario. As part of the Department of Dentistry at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, he also provides dental consultations and sometimes services for a range of patients. Cancer patients, for example, sometimes need dental work before getting radiation treatment. Although Dr. Pynn may not do the actual work himself, he facilitates it and determines when patients can safely undergo cancer treatment. With his undergraduate degree in Anthropology coupled with his OMFS expertise, Dr. Pynn also assists the coroner by providing dental identifications, when necessary.
“Oral and maxillofacial surgery is far beyond just pulling teeth,” Dr. Pynn said.
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