How Do I Become an Oral Pathologist?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

An oral pathologist is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of oral diseases. Dental students who want to become an oral pathologist will need to graduate from dental school, get a license as a dentist, and complete an oral pathology residency at a university that offers such residencies. Thereafter, the dentist will need to gain the relevant certification as an oral pathologist, such as the one offered by the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology in the United States. These certification exams usually take several days to complete and will cover a diverse range of topics to ensure the dentist is prepared to treat patients as an oral pathologist.

An oral pathologist diagnoses and treats oral diseases.
An oral pathologist diagnoses and treats oral diseases.

Upon graduation from dental school and earning either the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), students are eligible to sit for the exam to gain licensure as a dentist. Students will need to check with their state dental board regarding applications and testing procedures as some states conduct proprietary exams, while others offer regional exams through a third party testing provider. Passing the examination will give the student a license to practice dentistry, and he or she may then use the title of dentist. Licensure will also allow the dentist to complete a residency to become an oral pathologist.

An oral pathologist may study a tissue sample in a laboratory.
An oral pathologist may study a tissue sample in a laboratory.

After gaining licensure the dentist will need to apply and gain acceptance into a residency program for oral pathology, which is usually offered at major universities. Dentists who attend a residency to become an oral pathologist will spend three years in residency. Some may choose to stay another year or so to earn a PhD in oral pathology, depending on the university requirement. Successful completion of the residency will then qualify the dentist to sit for the required certification exam to become an oral pathologist.

Oral pathology programs typically include supervised, hands-on experience in a medical or clinical laboratory.
Oral pathology programs typically include supervised, hands-on experience in a medical or clinical laboratory.

At the successful conclusion of the residency, the dentist will need to apply for the right to take the certification exam with the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology in the United States, or another approved relevant board if in another country. During the exam, all aspects of oral pathology are usually covered to include surgery, various clinical components and written portions of the exam to test theory. Those taking the exam will need to set aside several days in order to take all the required components of the test. Passing the exam will certify the dentist as an oral pathologist, allowing him or her to use the title professionally.

Oral pathologists may be trained in several surgical procedures used to address dental diseases.
Oral pathologists may be trained in several surgical procedures used to address dental diseases.

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