Oral pathology 101
This is an article about oral pathology: where it stands today and how researchers and practitioners are working to advance many of the methods used to diagnose, manage, and treat diseases relevant to oral pathological study.
If that sounds complicated and a little intimidating, don’t worry. Despite our guest’s advanced level of expertise in the area, you won’t need a degree to read along and get a better idea of how oral pathology is advancing.
Also, if you’re the kind of person who hates going to the dentist, you may be especially interested to hear about how diagnosis and treatment are changing, and even more importantly, how you can prevent many of these diseases from progressing too far.
But before we get to all the details, we need to start out with an explanation of what exactly oral pathology is.
A basic definition of the term and its associated field of study was provided by our expert guest, Dr. Hitesh Vij, who we’ll be formally introducing in just a moment.
“Oral pathology is the specialty of dentistry and the discipline of pathology that deals with the identification, progression, origin, effects, and guidance for the management of diseases affecting the oral and facial regions. Oral pathology also involves research and diagnosis of diseases using clinical, radiographic, microscopic, biochemical, or other modalities of investigations.”
On its own, the term pathology is defined as the science of the causes and effects of diseases. Oral pathology focuses on the causes and effects of diseases that affect a certain part of the body. Simple enough, right?
With that covered, it’s time to introduce Vij and give just a bit of his professional background.
Dr. Hitesh Vij, committed to his field
By his own account, Vij originally had a serious interest in dentistry as a whole, and it was after beginning his studies in the area that he became aware of, and started to delve into, oral pathology specifically.
In the years since that first spark of inspiration, Vij has achieved excellence in oral pathology on many different levels.
Vij has practiced dentistry across multiple locations, has taught for more than ten years (including work at Boston University, where he was presented with the International College of Dentists award), has acted as a researcher, served as a reviewer for PubMed Indexed Journals, and has more than twenty different published pieces to his credit.
Vij has also presented a number of lectures at various dental and oral pathological conferences and summits. For one of these presentations at the National Conference of the Indian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Dr. Vij was given the Best Oral Presentation award.
On top of all that, Vij received the Publons Award for Top 1% of Reviewers in the Assorted Category.
To summarize, Vij is more than passionate about oral pathology; he is committed to the field wholeheartedly, and he was excited to share with us just a small bit of what his work entails.
With Vij’s substantial help, we’ll be focusing on the major concerns of oral pathology research today, the early detection of many diseases related to the oral and maxillofacial regions, and the benefits of teaching in addition to research and practice.
Let’s start out with the topic of early detection and an important call to action for anyone concerned about experiencing these diseases.
The importance of early detection
Early detection is a common topic in disease prevention in general, not just for the field of oral pathology.
You may have already heard that many different diseases, even many forms of cancer, are far more treatable when diagnosed relatively early on.
Vij confirmed that early detection of various oral and maxillofacial diseases is extremely important to treatment and pain management:
“Early detection of various oral diseases is key to the management of these conditions. Early detection can help control or stop the progression of many diseases, which in turn can help avoid very radical surgeries. All this may help us in achieving better survival rates and improved lifestyles of patients affected by severe diseases.”
Though the consequences of letting a disease go unnoticed are serious, participating in early detection is very simple.
For one, keeping regular visits with your dentist of choice can go a long way toward detecting warning signs before they develop into something more serious.
Outside of this, if you notice a change in your oral health, it’s always worth calling your dentist’s office to get a better idea of what the problem might be and set up an appointment, if necessary.
It’s also important to remember that maintaining oral hygiene is one of the most basic ways that you can prevent or lessen the impact of certain diseases.
Of course, for more serious conditions, it’s best to reach out to your dentist or oral surgeon.
Just like any other aspect of your health, communicating concerns to a health professional is key to treating and preventing many different conditions, and you should never feel embarrassed to raise concerns.
Rewards of research
Moving to the academic and scientific side of oral pathology, let’s look at research in more detail. Again, don’t worry– this won’t be a highly technical examination of recent research papers or journal articles.
Instead, we wanted to ask Vij about his motivations for engaging in research and reviewing various research articles.
After all, public perception of medical research can be fairly skeptical. Just consider how many times you’ve seen a news headline about a new study that has supposedly discovered a brand new risk factor for cancer, or, in contrast, a food item that may help prevent cancer.
On the surface level, it can be difficult to judge the validity of each study and discern who funded the research in the first place.
While not every research study is groundbreaking or even worthy of attention, all research has the potential to bring new light to a certain disease or area of study.
It’s also rare that members of the general public are made aware of how contemporary research builds on any number of past studies.
For Vij, oral pathology research carries great value, not only to practitioners and other medical and scientific professionals, but to the researchers themselves:
“In my opinion, research not only helps you grow in every aspect but also provides a platform to give back to society. Through research, I have been working on the development of techniques that can hasten the diagnosis, or help to better understand the biological behavior, of certain oral diseases. These techniques can help us identify aggressive ailments and plan the course of treatment accordingly.”
New techniques discovered or refined through research could translate to major changes in how these types of diseases are treated and, subsequently, how patients cope with and recover from treatment.
As for some of the more specific goals of contemporary oral pathology research, Vij explained that some of the most serious diseases continue to be a focus, especially in relation to the detection of these diseases:
“Various cancers and immunological diseases continue to be major concerns. They really debilitate the affected person and hamper their lifestyle. The main focus in today’s research is to detect these at a very early stage and also have treatment modalities in the future so these devastating diseases can be cured completely or to develop techniques which can keep patients free of such diseases.”
Despite these diseases still being serious threats to patients, a significant amount of research has been done in the area, and treatment has improved greatly over the past several decades.
In general, research is the foundation for future treatment techniques and even potential cures.
A teacher and a student
To end on a slightly lighter note, we also asked Vij about his teaching experience, and more specifically, we wanted to know how these experiences have informed other aspects of his career and work.
Vij feels strongly that he has benefitted from teaching in many ways, from the development of his creative proficiencies to explain concepts to handling the pressure of new and uncommon situations to progressing leadership and guidance skills.
Teaching has allowed Vij to share his extensive knowledge with a new generation of dental and oral pathology students in multiple schools, and in the process, Vij learns from his students:
“Teaching has proven to be not only a process of sharing my knowledge but also a great opportunity to learn and be a student myself. My passion for gaining new knowledge in my field and my love for research made it relatively easy for me to share and easily communicate my thoughts and make students understand the basic concepts and ideas in oral pathology.”
This is an excellent example of Vij’s dedication to his work: that he’s not satisfied with his current level of expertise.
There will always be more to learn, especially as new research is conducted and as new findings are shared with the medical community at large.
Perhaps one day many of these diseases will be completely cured. Until then, Vij and other oral pathology specialists have their work cut out for them.