What is an Oral Pathologist?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
An oral pathologist might be called in by a dentist to help patients with canker sores.
An oral pathologist might be called in by a dentist to help patients with canker sores.

An oral pathologist, also called an oral maxillofacial pathologist, is a dental professional who specializes in the diagnosis of serious dental and facial cavity diseases. Whenever a general dentist encounters evidence of a chronic condition during a routine exam, he or she may remove a portion of the affected tissue and send it to the pathologist for further study. It is the job of this expert to determine if the tissue sample is possibly cancerous or infectious.

An oral pathologist diagnoses diseases of the dental and facial cavity.
An oral pathologist diagnoses diseases of the dental and facial cavity.

Although training initially follows the same program that leads to a DDS degree, an oral pathologist continues his or her education with a three year hospital internship in oral and maxillofacial pathology. This training does not lead to an MD degree, however, so it is not unusual for medical professionals to consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist instead of a trained pathologist. While many dentists have no reluctance to consult an oral pathologist, some physicians are not as familiar with this profession's level of expertise.

Much of the laboratory work performed by oral pathologists can be conducted by other laboratory personnel.
Much of the laboratory work performed by oral pathologists can be conducted by other laboratory personnel.

Besides the risk of cancer, patients may face other incapacitating oral conditions such as canker sores, opportunistic infections and ulcerations of the tongue and gums. If these conditions cannot not be controlled by standard treatment methods, a general dentist may call in an oral pathologist for more advanced procedures. This professional may choose to specialize in this type of hands-on practice or spend more time in diagnostics and research.

An oral pathologist may consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist when diagnosing oral conditions.
An oral pathologist may consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist when diagnosing oral conditions.

The number of practicing oral pathologists in the United States is surprisingly low. The national association of oral and maxillofacial pathologists currently lists only 236 active fellows. This means a ratio of over one million citizens to every one active pathologist. There are some states without a single licensed professional on record. Much of the laboratory work performed by these people, such as biopsy diagnosis, can be performed by other laboratory personnel, but specialized treatment may be difficult to duplicate.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon255179

In today's era, the value of an oral pathologist is less as compared to other specialty dentists, like an oral surgeon, prosthodontist, endodontist, periodontist etc.

But without the opinion of oral pathologists, no surgical treatment can be planned.

Therefore, oral pathologists have a knowledge right from molecular to pathological aspect of a disease.

gregg1956

I bet the job prospects for oral pathologists are pretty good though, since there's so few of them around.

googlefanz

I've heard that the additional training for oral pathologists is pretty intense.

Besides the regular dental training, they also have to train in oral surgery, radiology, even microbiology.

Maybe that's why there's not so many in the US right now -- it's just too hard to train for!

pharmchick78

Oral pathologists are most commonly called upon to diagnose or work with the really weird stuff -- leukoplakia, oral cancer, recurrent lesions, that kind of stuff.

Some are even trained in oral surgery, and can perform advanced dental procedures that a regular dentist may not be comfortable with.

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    • An oral pathologist might be called in by a dentist to help patients with canker sores.
      An oral pathologist might be called in by a dentist to help patients with canker sores.
    • An oral pathologist diagnoses diseases of the dental and facial cavity.
      An oral pathologist diagnoses diseases of the dental and facial cavity.
    • Much of the laboratory work performed by oral pathologists can be conducted by other laboratory personnel.
      Much of the laboratory work performed by oral pathologists can be conducted by other laboratory personnel.
    • An oral pathologist may consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist when diagnosing oral conditions.
      An oral pathologist may consult with an ear, nose and throat specialist when diagnosing oral conditions.
    • An oral pathologist may be needed for more advanced dental procedures.
      An oral pathologist may be needed for more advanced dental procedures.
    • The number of practicing oral pathologists in the U.S. is surprisingly low.
      The number of practicing oral pathologists in the U.S. is surprisingly low.
    • An oral pathologist may determine whether a given tissue is cancerous.
      An oral pathologist may determine whether a given tissue is cancerous.
    • When examining the mouth, an oral pathologist may depress the tongue to look into the mouth.
      When examining the mouth, an oral pathologist may depress the tongue to look into the mouth.
    • Oral pathologists may analyze tissue samples collected by doctors.
      Oral pathologists may analyze tissue samples collected by doctors.