Embracing the Future of Oral Medicine
Craig S. Miller, DMD, MS
Douglas E. Peterson, DMD, Ph.D, FDS RCSEd

We would like to compliment Dr. Bhavik Desai for his thought-provoking reflections in “My Oral Medicine Job Hunt,” as published in the Spring 2017 AAOM Newsletter. In his essay, he leaves us all with the following challenge:

“Dental academicians are ageing, and oral medicine may be no exception. In principle, ageing demographics should work in favor of younger trainees seeking employment opportunities; however, my own experiences and those of junior colleagues reveal otherwise. In my current position, I teach case-based learning to small groups of bright-eyed third year dental students, some of whom express interest in oral medicine as a career. Most of these students will graduate with significant dental school debt. Can I look them in the eye and honestly tell them that they should pursue a residency in oral medicine, and they will do okay for themselves?”

As we noted in our Jonathan Ship lecture at the April 2017 AAOM Annual Meeting, there is little question that the number of oral medicine practitioners and educators is in steady state rather than in growth phase. In addition, the number of oral medicine researchers who are funded by the NIH has actually declined over the past two decades. These collective signals are a clear wake-up call for our discipline.

Despite these concerns, we are quite enthusiastic about the future. In ways we discussed during our April 2017 lecture, this enthusiasm is balanced by the realization that some impediments lie in our path. For example, AAOM members, fellows, and diplomates are challenged by the need for political reforms, legislative actions, and better communication with insurance companies. However, the following opportunities, if successfully navigated in the coming years, will quite likely transform the current status quo in oral medicine into a robust, impactful specialty for delivery of 21st century health care:

  • Oral Medicine achieved specialty recognition by the American Board of Dental Specialties in 2015. This foundational achievement now sets the stage for development of new clinical practice models for the future.
  • The financial picture for the Academy in general, as well as for oral medicine practitioners in particular, is good. AAOM is financially solvent. Similarly, financial projections suggest that a full-time oral medicine practice can be financially durable, and competitive with other currently recognized dental specialties.
  • In the educational and research arenas:
    • Oral Medicine Residency Program Directors and their oral medicine faculty colleagues can enhance curricula and training experiences in order to capitalize upon the changing oral disease trends in America, including but not limited to mucosal disease, salivary hypofunction, and orofacial pain. In addition, residency programs offer fertile ground for research mentorship in the collective university context, versus the single discipline-based approach that has often been utilized in the past. In this context, considerations for how to incorporate big data, bioinformatics, and precision medicine become key elements for discussion among the program directors. 
  • There are recently emergent novel opportunities in interprofessional education and educational research in which oral medicine can play a lead role. These initiatives, for example, can include biomedical and public health themes in the interprofessional setting, as well as the teaching of clinical implementation of wellness and healthy lifestyle programs for patients through utilization of our expertise.

The history of oral medicine is rich with success as well as with “lessons learned” that can inform the future. Our membership is well poised nationally to organize and inspire the next generation of oral medicine specialists. This future embraces, indeed requires, comprehensive and effective collaboration among AAOM members, diplomates, and fellows every step of the way. This teamwork could in turn very much translate into transformed patient oral health care in the clinical setting and the creation of new knowledge in the educational and research realms. 

In our view there is good reason for considerable optimism that AAOM members can define and achieve improved healthcare outcomes with the American public. These successes will in large part be based upon residency training as well as evidence-based data that we collectively generate and integrate into our clinical practices.

Return to 2017 Fall AAOM News