Animal Dentistry: A Vet Tech’s Guide

Published on November 20, 2019 by arothstein

Veterinarian performs animal dentistry appointment on horse

Choosing a career as a vet tech requires you to have a genuine love for animals, not just cute kittens and puppies. The job requires patience, perseverance, and dedication–especially when it comes to animal dentistry. You must have a lot of compassion and empathy for the animals you care for as well as the people you interact with.

Vet techs assist veterinarians with medical procedures. Other duties of the vet tech include performing diagnostic tests, preparing animals for surgery, dispensing medications, and educating pet owners about the proper care of their pets. Of course, this also includes providing information on animal dentistry services and healthy habits.

The education that vet techs receive prepares them to make a difference in the lives of animals and improve their quality of life. Health relates to both the animal’s dentistry, as well as physical body.

What Is Animal Dentistry?

Veterinary dentistry is evolving in the same way as dentistry for humans. In some states, a veterinarian may be required to have a license to practice veterinary medical dentistry. The designation for veterinarians opens up a new field of specialization for vet techs.

A veterinary dental tech is a specialist who manages the dental care of an animal and assists a veterinarian with dental procedures. Animal dentistry specialists work in a variety of environments.

The duties of an animal dentistry vet tech include:

Why is Animal Dentistry Necessary?

Dental disease in an animal can result in bad breath, tooth loss, and pain when chewing food. Bacteria that gets trapped beneath the gums travel to the heart, kidneys, or liver and cause disease. This type of dental disease is progressive and can lead to more severe health problems.

Periodontal disease begins when food particles and bacteria combine and form plaque on an animal’s teeth. When the bacteria work its way under the gums, it can cause a painful gum inflammation known as gingivitis. The bacteria can destroy the tissue in the gums, which can result in tooth loss.

Differences in Domestic Versus Farm Animal Dentistry

Domestic animal dentistry for dogs and cats involves common dental procedures including:

Additional dental procedures for cats and dogs may include orthodontics, fractured jaw repairs, and regeneration of tissue. Surgical procedures may require complex surgical extractions of teeth. Restorative procedures may include treating tooth decay and inserting fillings to prevent further damage.

Dental Procedures for Horses

Horses are similar to humans since they have milk teeth that are replaced by permanent teeth as they mature. Horses have 24 baby teeth, which are replaced by 36 to 40 adult teeth. The incisors are used for biting and cutting. Behind the incisors on the upper and lower left and right, the horse may have canine teeth.

The interdental space between the canine tooth and back premolars and molars is the interdental space where the bit is placed when the horse is being ridden. Some horses also have what is called a wolf tooth, which doesn’t have a purpose and is often removed.

Horses are a grazing species, and their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. The teeth are continually grinding down due to the roughage they eat. Horse’s teeth get uneven and cause sharp points. An equine veterinarian should check a horse’s teeth at least once a year to grind down the sharp points.

Alpacas, Cattle, Goats, Llama, and Sheep

Animals of the Camelid species, including alpacas and llamas, have baby teeth that fall out to make room for the permanent teeth. The number of teeth can vary with each of these species. The molars and premolars of alpacas don’t continuously grow the way they do in horses. Alpacas use more of a side motion when they chew, which prevents the teeth from developing a sharp point.

The teeth of alpacas require regular care as they do with other species. The most common treatment is trimming the animal’s incisors, which can be done with an adapted angle grinder, a cutting disc, or a grinding wheel.

Cattle Dentistry

Cattle don’t usually have the problems with their teeth becoming uneven the way horses do, mainly since the living environment that allows them to graze frequently. The primary issue with the teeth in cattle is bacterial problems in the mouth called Calf Diphtheria, lumpy jaw, or wooden tongue. These conditions are usually treated with antibiotics.


Goats are like cattle and sheep since they have 20 deciduous or baby teeth, and 32 adult teeth. When goats reach the age of about five years, some of their teeth may begin to fall out. They may have gaps between some of their teeth but still manage to eat properly.


Sheep are another species of ruminant and chew their food in the same manner as cattle and goats. Sheep have incisors in their lower jaw and a hard plate in the upper jaw. Their incisors and plate are used to nibble on the grass while the molars assist in chewing the cud. Sheep’s teeth should be checked for rough edges on the outside portion of their molars, which could cause an abscess.

How to Clean an Animals Teeth

It’s as essential for an animal’s teeth to be clean as it is for a human. Unlike a human diet, which is primarily made up of processed foods, animals have to bite and chew a lot to digest their food, which helps to keep their teeth clean.

Healthy Grazing and Cleaning Treats

Some wild animals chew on sticks or bark to keep their teeth clean. However, animals in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries should have their teeth checked by a vet tech frequently.

Fruits and Vegetables

Some veterinarians recommend giving pets food like carrots or apples to keep their teeth clean and free of bacteria. However, you should always discuss any changes in your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. Some veterinarians recommend buying a small toothbrush with bristles designed to clean a domestic pet’s teeth. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly can remove a lot of the tartar and plaque that form on your pet’s teeth.

Treats Do Not Replace Regular Cleanings

Regular cleaning of your pet’s teeth at home may reduce the need for more periodic cleaning by your veterinarian or vet tech. However, some animals don’t take well to having their teeth brushed by their owners. If your pet is resistant to having his teeth cleaned, a visit to the vet is in order.

Veterinary Dental Cleaning

Dogs and cats should have their teeth checked by your veterinarian when they go for an annual wellness exam. Yearly checkups can prevent oral problems in a pet and keep their teeth and mouth healthy.

Some of the problems pet owners should be aware of are:

Some animals have a change in temperament when they have pain in their mouth. A professional evaluation is the best way to determine the problem.

What Happens at an Animal Dentistry Appointment?

A veterinary dental exam includes an oral exam. The veterinarian may order x-rays to evaluate the health of the teeth below the gum line. Most dental disease in animals occurs below the gum line. The veterinarian or vet tech will put the animal under anesthesia and perform further evaluation and cleaning.

The cleaning, while your pet is under anesthesia, will include scaling. Scaling is a process that removes tartar and plaque. Animal dentistry procedures are performed under anesthesia, so your pet feels less pain and stress. When x-rays are ordered, it’s necessary for the pet to be very still to get the best image, and it’s more effective under anesthesia.

Importance in Treats That Clean Teeth

Oral care at home for your dog or cat should include treats that have a chewy and porous texture that can clean hard to reach spaces between your pet’s teeth. The most effective treats to clean your pet’s teeth remove the plaque and leave your pet with a sweet-smelling breath.

The best treats that clean your pet’s teeth also include ingredients that help them to process their food. For pets that object to having their teeth brushed, products that clean their teeth are also a treat for them. The best quality chews taste right to your pet and provide a barrier against bacteria.

Some chews use delmopinol technology that cleans teeth, reduces bad breath, and is used in human dental technology. One chew a day is recommended for pets. The treat shouldn’t be left outside the wrapper for too long because it will be too hard for your pet to chew.

Some treats are designed to freshen breath, clean teeth, and reduce tartar and plaque by cleaning below the gumline. Some of the most popular dental treats for pets are made with only natural ingredients, have a pleasing taste, and come in different sizes. Some of the most effective dental treats bend and don’t break when your pet bites into them, so they provide a more in-depth cleaning at the gumline. One of the most essential points when choosing a dental treat for your pet is to choose one that tastes good, or you’re defeating the purpose.

The Benefits to Your Pet of Dental Treats

There’s a wide range of benefits to giving your pet dental treats. Some are designed for large breed animals, while others are specifically for kittens or puppies. Dental treats offer a soothing, relaxing sensation for your pet. The treats remove plaque and tartar, clean the teeth down to the gum line, and there’s no need to brush your pet’s teeth.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about animal dentistry interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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