Can General Dentists Practice Oral Pathology?

Oral and maxillofacial pathology is one of the nine specialized fields of dentistry recognized by the American Dental Association. In generalized terms, oral and maxillofacial pathologists (OMPs) work to identify, treat, and gain a better understanding of diseases that affect the mouth, the jaw, and the surrounding structures like the salivary glands and the TMJs (jaw joints). Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at what OMPs and general dentists with advanced training in oral pathology do as well as examining some of the diseases they treat.

Education and Training in Oral Pathology

Once a dentist graduates from dental school, he or she can choose to pursue three or more years of additional formal education and training in a specialized field of dentistry, like oral pathology, oral surgery, or prosthodontics. The majority of OMPs are engaged in research, although many also practice surgical oral pathology (such as interpreting oral biopsy samples in a lab setting) and clinical oral pathology (evaluating patients one-on-one).

Dentists who enjoy the variety of a general practice but who have a special interest and aptitude in oral pathology (or another specialty) can pursue continuing education focused in their area of interest. Although they still defer to OMPs for complex cases, these general dentists with advanced training have the knowledge and experience to handle a wide range of individual cases.

Different Types of Oral Pathologies

The breadth of oral diseases and defects is vast, but experts divide them into two main categories:

Pathologies You’re Born With (Congenital)

Congenital oral pathologies are mostly abnormalities that occur as parts of the mouth are developing. For instance, an abnormal bite (known as malocclusion) is considered an oral pathology and is often treated via orthodontics. Cleft lip and palate, large tongue, bony growths on the roof of the mouth and beneath the tongue (known as tori) are all considered congenital pathologies.

Pathologies You Acquire

Acquired oral pathologies may be contracted from another person, as the result of environmental factors, or they may simply be latent until a person reaches a certain stage of life. Some acquired oral pathologies include gum disease (a bacterial pathology), herpes (a viral pathology), oral candida or “thrush” (a fungal pathology), oral cancer (a neoplastic pathology), and Sjogren’s disease (an autoimmune pathology).

About Shawn Hofkes, DDS

With advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and certification in oral and IV sedation, Shawn Hofkes, DDS provides oral pathology services including oral cancer screenings and oral biopsies from our state-of-the-art dentist office in Cerritos, CA. To schedule your appointment or consultation with Dr. Hofkes, contact us today. We proudly serve patients of all ages from Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Buena Park, and all surrounding communities.