3 Differences Between a Stomatologist and a Dentist

Although they're sometimes considered the same profession, there are various differences between a stomatologist and a dentist.
3 Differences Between a Stomatologist and a Dentist
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by la odontóloga Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 02 January, 2024

Although both are dedicated to the care of the oral cavity, there are some differences between a stomatologist and a dentist. Although they’re sometimes used synonymously, they’re not two ways of naming the same health specialty.

The differences between these specialties vary from one country to another. In this article, we’re going to explore the main contrasts between these two branches dedicated to the care of the structures of the mouth.

Clarifying some terms

To better understand the differences between a stomatologist and a dentist, it’s first important to understand certain terms and concepts. According to the Dictionary of the Spanish Language, the term “odontology” comes from the Greek odontos (tooth) and logía (study). So, it has to do with the study of teeth and the treatment of their ailments.

On the other hand, “stomatology” also comes from Greek, from stóma (mouth). It refers to one of the branches of medicine that treats diseases of the human mouth.

When considering the etymological origin of the terms odontologist and stomatologist, we might think that the former only deals with the teeth and the latter with the other structures of the mouth. However, although predominant practices sometimes have this tendency, both specialties seek the health of the stomatognathic system.

When we talk about the stomatognathic system, we’re referring to the structures and organs that are related and work together to carry out functions related to chewing, eating, breathing, and phonation. This system is composed of the following structures:

  • The upper and lower jaw
  • The teeth.
  • Gums and periodontium
  • The temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
  • Masticatory muscles
  • The tongue
  • Lips
  • Palate
  • Cheeks
  • Salivary glands
  • The floor of the mouth
  • The tonsils and the oropharynx

A dentist and a stomatologist both know the physiology, anatomy, and diseases of these organs, which comprise the oral cavity. And both, through their practices, seek to preserve their health and functionality.

Having made these concepts clear, we can now explore the main differences between a stomatologist and a dentist.

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1. Academic training and specialization

Academic training is one of the differences between a stomatologist and a dentist. The degree and previous studies required to specialize in stomatology depend on the professional’s country.

This is evidenced by an article published in the Journal of Dental Education, which states that dental education varies considerably throughout Europe, with different traditions of stomatology and dentistry: Dentistry as a specialty of medicine or as a single autonomous discipline.

For example, in Spain, in order to be a stomatologist, one must also be a doctor. But in this same country, to be a dentist, you don’t have to study medicine.

In other words, dentists only study dentistry at an authorized university and obtain the degree that allows them to practice the profession. Dentists deal with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of dental and oral cavity problems.

On the other hand, a stomatologist must study the entire medical career and, after graduating, pursue a specialization in stomatology. Therefore, a stomatologist is also a doctor, and because the professional is a doctor, they’re qualified to practice medicine without limitations, in case it’s necessary.

In other countries, stomatology is a branch of dentistry. During undergraduate training, professionals obtain the necessary knowledge to diagnose the problems of the structures that make up the entire stomatognathic system.

In any case, once a professional becomes a licensed dentist, they specialize in stomatology. In these cases, the dentist completes a complete postgraduate training and receives a title as a dentist who specializes in entomology. In addition to performing regular dental practices, they may be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the mouth and related tissues.

2. The focus of attention

A general dentist is responsible for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases related to the oral cavity, which includes the teeth, periodontal tissue, and gums. This doesn’t mean that the other structures that make up the mouth aren’t taken into consideration, but many times, the presence of problems in other oral tissues requires referral to a specialist.

Their focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of problems such as cavities, gum disease, and malocclusions. Common procedures include preventative measures such as sealants, cleanings, the use of fluoride, dental work, root canals, extractions, the rehabilitation of damaged or missing tooth structures, and the performance of cosmetic procedures.

On the other hand, the focus of stomatologists is directed primarily to care for the innermost structures of the mouth and oral tissues. They seek to diagnose and treat conditions in the mucous membranes, oral lesions, and disorders in the gums, palate, lips, tongue, salivary glands, maxilla, jaw, and attached tissues.

This branch of oral care plays a fundamental role in the early detection of precancerous lesions and oral cancer. According to a review article from Brazil, his clinical practice emphasizes the prevention and early diagnosis of potentially malignant oral diseases and malignant tumors.

In the case of stomatologists, having more extensive training in general medicine, they’re trained to treat not only dental problems but also more general diseases that affect the mouth. They can also perform biopsies to confirm the diagnosis of some oral tissue lesions.

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3. Work environment

One of the main differences between a stomatologist and a dentist is the work environment. Although the place of care depends to a large extent on the preferences of the professional, it’s common for stomotologists to carry out their practices in a hospital environment.

Hospitals, specialized clinics, and health centers allow them to address the oral problems of their patients in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary manner. In addition, stomatologists are often involved in research and teaching at academic institutions.

An article published in the Oral Diseases Magazine defends the specialty of stomatology as part of medicine. One of the foundations used by the author to justify the training of doctors in oral problems is the care of people in the same place where many specialties converge, such as the hospital sector.

According to the article, this would make it possible to provide a person-centered care environment and favor interprofessional relationships. In this way, the isolated attention of dentistry can be overcome.

Dentists often practice their profession in private dental clinics, where they focus on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of specific dental problems. It’s common for dental clinics to have several dentists who specialize in different branches of dentistry, such as orthodontists, implantologists, and periodontists, in order to provide multidisciplinary care to their patients. However, some hospitals have dental offices as part of their services.

Specialties that complement one other

Both a stomatologist and a dentist deal with oral health. The main differences lie in their academic background, specialization, focus of practice, and place of care.

To summarize, stomatologists have more extensive training, which may include general medicine, and deal with more complex oral problems and related systemic diseases. Dentists specialize in oral health and focus on the diagnosis and treatment of specific oral conditions.

Stomatologists and dentists play a crucial role in oral health care, and their practices complement one another. The choice of one profession or another will depend on the specific needs and conditions of each patient.

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