Stomatology is the study of the structure, function and diseases of the oral cavity. In some countries, the term is interchangeable with the discipline of dentistry called oral medicine. While oral medicine is not a recognized dental specialty in the United States, stomatologists fill an important role in training dentists and treating various health problems that affect the mouth and teeth.
What Is Stomatology?
The American Dental Association (ADA) determines what fields of dentistry are recognized specialties. The educational and training track that allows a general dentist to become a licensed specialist is controlled by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. However, recent court cases in the United States are questioning the autonomy of the ADA, and individual state boards of dentistry that issue licenses may recognize other specialties. This is an ongoing and complex situation that will shape the dental profession. At the moment, the majority of states recognize nine specialties, which range from dental public health to pediatric and surgical disciplines.
Stomatology overlaps with several of the recognized ADA specialties (such as orthodontics and dental public health) as well several other disciplines that include oral facial pain and chronic pain. Oral medicine and stomatology training in dental school is often centered around nonsurgical management of oral manifestations of systemic diseases, oral mucosal lesions, and other oral conditions not associated with the teeth. Oral pathology is another related field, which comes into play during tasks such as reading a biopsy specimen.
Oral pathologists also treat patients for oral symptoms of diseases that are not related to tooth decay or gum diseases. But stomatology and oral pathology differ in focus. Oral pathology centers around diagnosing and treating diseases, while stomatology includes treatment of structural and non-disease issues. Stomatology is also not a term you are likely to see on an office door in the United States, and it shares only some features with the similar discipline of oral medicine.
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 the responsibility of a stomatologist.
Certain conditions in the oral cavity need to be controlled and monitored even while the patient is undergoing treatment for another disease. This includes cancer treatment that can result in oral mucosal lesions and pain that requires dental treatment.
Some oral conditions are still not entirely understood, and researchers are working to find the connections between problems that present in the mouth and issues that affect the rest of the body. 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 discipline of stomatology.
Oral conditions other than decay and gum disease are treated by general dentists and the other recognized specialties. However, some issues are more studied by some specialties than others. Your general dentist can direct you to the right practitioner.
The future will most likely see the discipline of oral medicine become a recognized ADA specialty. According to a study published by the journal Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, the practice of stomatology on an international level will expand as certain populations age and more chronic health issues require a multi-disciplinary approach. Physicians, dentists and other health care providers will work together to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from chronic conditions.