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What Is The Difference Between Stomatology and Oral Medicine?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

You're a devoted dental patient who attends all your regularly scheduled checkups, commits to a vigorous oral care routine, and replaces your toothbrush when it begins to fray. Still, you may not be aware of how much your oral health relates to your overall health and how the understanding of this connection has developed. While we believe that taking care of your mouth is essential for the upkeep of your teeth, gums, and gorgeous smile, it's also related to your physical wellbeing.

In some countries, the original term for this field, "stomatology," is used instead of oral medicine. But it's not a term you're likely to see on your dental professional's office door in the United States. Stomatology has evolved into oral medicine as a recognized dental specialty in the United States. Its specialists fill an essential role in training dentists and treating various health problems that affect the mouth and teeth. Let's go over the details of oral medicine, its evolution from stomatology, and the specific diseases this field diagnoses and treats.

Regulating Dentistry

We consider the American Dental Association (ADA) the premier governing body of dentistry in the United States. The ADA determines what fields of dentistry should be specialties. There are currently twelve specialties, ranging from dental public health to pediatric and surgical disciplines.

In September 2020, oral medicine was added as one of these specialties. Its representing organization in the United States is the American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM), founded in the 1940s out of an understanding that there should be an integrated approach to studying medicine and dentistry. This made the study of the relationship between oral health and other ailments of the body, also known as oral-systemic health, official!

What is Oral Medicine?

As noted by the ADA, oral medicine is "the specialty of dentistry responsible for the oral health care of medically complex patients and the diagnosis and management of medically-related diseases, disorders, and conditions affecting the oral and maxillofacial region." Oral medicine training in dental school focuses on few key areas:

  • The management of dental patients who present with complex medical conditions
  • Nonsurgical management of oral manifestations of systemic diseases (examples include HIV/AIDS, lupus, and diabetes)
  • Diagnosis and management of acute and chronic oral mucosal lesions and disorders (examples include candidiasis and leukoplakia)
  • Other oral conditions not associated with the teeth

Oral medicine specialists play an essential role in the field of dentistry. They examine patients and determine both the diagnosis and course of treatment. They also perform biopsies and consult with many other medical and dental specialists, depending on the patient's health issue and treatment needs.

Diseases That Affect the Mouth

Some systemic diseases such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and lupus may have oral manifestations. When these diseases result in dental issues, their diagnosis and management would be an oral medicine professional's responsibility. While not related to the oral cavity in nature, some conditions or treatments need monitoring from an oral care perspective. For example, if you undergo cancer treatment, you'll need special oral care because some cancer treatments can result in oral mucosal lesions and pain.

Did you know that oral medicine also covers oral cavity ailments that aren't yet completely understood? A burning tongue, sores, ulcers, sensory disorders, taste disorders, movement disorders, and chronic pain are just some of the areas that can be part of the oral medicine discipline. There's ongoing research on these ailments to understand their interconnectedness with the rest of the body and potential causes.

The Future of Oral Medicine

Because healthcare providers see the benefits of working from a more comprehensive care perspective, the future of oral medicine looks bright. Eventually, the practice of oral medicine will expand on a global level as specific populations age. Their chronic health issues will need a multi-disciplinary care approach. Physicians, dental professionals, and other healthcare providers will work in an interdisciplinary manner to improve their patients' quality of life.

We may come to learn that many health issues don't work in a vacuum. The connection between oral and systemic health is becoming better understood in no small part because of the field of oral medicine, known for years as stomatology. This oral-systemic link is what makes oral medicine essential to both the dental and medical fields of study in the United States. So when you partake in your rigorous oral care routine and attend your scheduled professional dental appointments, you're not only taking care of your dental health but your overall wellbeing too!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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