Over the last 40 years, research in dental schools has moved from a position where clinicians were expected to make a scientific contribution to their fields on their own, to a fruitful multidisciplinary approach to answering basic questions about the disease process. At one time, clinicians hoping to make an academic contribution were expected to learn basic laboratory techniques in order to do so. Indeed, the foundation of current multidisciplinary research was that this approach was relatively successful. However, it became apparent that successful high-impact contributions required expertise that cannot any longer reside in individuals but in groups. Both the scientific questions and the means of addressing them have become increasingly complex and require a wide range of expertise. This applies not only to laboratory-based research but to clinically applied research. The former needs interactions with expert nonclinical scientists and the latter interactions with expert clinicians from different fields in order to maximise the investigation and management of complex clinical diseases. In oral medicine, there are now many examples of both types of multidisciplinary approach, which have resulted in a marked increase in our knowledge of disease mechanisms in mucosal disease which have in turn led to new approaches to treatment.