‘Putting the mouth back into the body’: How Westmead Hospital’s Associate Professor Mark Schifter pioneered oral medicine at Westmead Hospital

For over three decades, Associate Professor Mark Schifter has been at the forefront of oral medicine at Westmead Hospital in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

His journey with WSLHD began in 1988 as a Dental Officer, marking the start of a career dedicated to bridging the gap between dental and medical care.

Today, as a staff specialist in Oral Medicine, or an “oral physician”, Mark’s contributions have revolutionised the field, particularly in New South Wales (NSW).

Mark’s impact on oral medicine in NSW has been profound, as the first registrar in oral medicine, and the first registered specialist in oral health in the state.

“When the National Board and the Dental Council was founded, it finally allowed me to register as a specialist in oral medicine in 1998 and so I became the first such registered specialist in NSW, and the first in the public health system of NSW as well,” Mark said.

With expertise in oral and maxillofacial pathology, Mark’s practice involves a wide spectrum of conditions, from autoimmune diseases to infectious diseases and potentially malignant conditions.

“If you’ve got a disease, I’ll try and find a drug or a conservative therapy to treatment to try and avoid surgery,” Mark said.

His role extends beyond outpatient services to include inpatient care for medically complex patients, such as those undergoing organ transplants.

Mark emphasised the evolving nature of oral medicine, saying, “every day you’re presented with a new puzzle”.

He also highlighted the importance of integrating oral medicine into overall healthcare.

We’re trying to put the mouth back into the body.

Westmead Hospital Associate Professor Mark Schifter

The level of care and collaborative nature of treatment at Westmead Hospital is something that is significant to the standard of care western Sydney residents receive and is unique to this facility.

Mark and his team have been able to work to identify a treatment for a very rare variant of pemphigus, an autoimmune disease that, if not recognised very early, has a 90 per cent fatality rate for patients.

“Through the immunology clinic we’ve gained so much experience and knowledge,” he said.

We had five patients who we were able to identify very early due to our experience with the immunology clinic. We were able to give them a combination of immunosuppressants and identify their underlying malignancy to provide treatment, and they are still alive today.

Westmead Hospital Associate Professor Mark Schifter

Mark attributes this to having the unique experience of having a dental hospital within the main hospital facility.

“The most important piece of real estate at Westmead Hospital, as far as I’m concerned, is the link way between the Centre for Oral Health and the main hospital.”

“The standard of treatment comes from the fact that you have the greatest and most diverse range of specialties working here at Westmead.”

“We have this unit that’s catering for these highly morbid patients, trying to address the pain and consequences of severe dental infections, while navigating their medical complexities. And that only came about because there’s a dental hospital.”