Animal dentistry is one part of the veterinary profession. According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMA), periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats. Because of this, veterinary technicians also care for the dental health of pets. Whether working with domesticated pets or livestock, a veterinary technician plays a significant role in the health of animals.
Why People Choose to Be a Veterinary Technician
A veterinary technician understands that their job calls for them to love all animals. Even more, this field offers those with the right skills a chance to build a career. It’s also personally rewarding in many other ways.
Vet Techs are Valued
First, veterinary technicians are skilled and generally held in high esteem. Not only do clients appreciate their skills, but they are also respected by other veterinary staff. This is because a veterinary technician understands disease processes, interventions and patient outcomes.
Additionally, vet techs educate clients, fill prescriptions and take down vital information. Behind the scenes, veterinary technicians helps to keep a veterinary practice functioning. For example, vet techs ensure there’s an adequate stock of supplies and that equipment is maintained in good working order.
Being a Vet Tech is an Exciting Career
The technical aspect of the job is intellectually stimulating. On any given day, the veterinary technician implements the care plan a veterinarian orders. For example, this could mean placing an IV, administering and monitoring anesthesia or prepping pets for surgery. Additionally, a vet tech performs diagnostics and monitors patients. In some cases, a veterinary technicians performs part, if not all, procedures.
A Day in the Life of Animal Dentistry
Animal dentistry is almost exclusively the job of the veterinary technician. Most dental care begins with a thorough exam, followed by radiographs and bloodwork if necessary.
Anesthesia in Animal Dentistry
An intravenous catheter is inserted, and anesthesia will be induced with an injection. The veterinary technician then places a tube to allow the anesthesia to be maintained. After the animal is asleep, it connects to devices that monitor vitals.
What Does a Animal Dentistry Appointment Entail?
After anesthesia is complete, the veterinary technician carries out the dental procedure. For example, routine cleanings mean each individual tooth, above and below the gum line. Additionally, a veterinary technician keeps a detailed patient chart. For example, this documents the exact condition of the teeth, treatments and how the patient is doing.
Differences in Equine Dentistry
In equine dentistry, the patient will not be anesthetized as heavily unless it has oral surgery. Instead, the horse is given a sedative. Additionally, sometimes localized numbing agents are also used. Large files sand down any uneven surfaces on the teeth, which ensures the horse has a smooth, even surface bite. Large animal dentistry is practiced both in a hospital setting and out in the field. As a result, this means a vet tech travels to wherever the horse lives.
Learning Small Animal and Equine Dental Anatomy
Animal dentistry requires a good understanding of anatomy. Because of this, it is more difficult than human dentistry because it requires knowledge of more than one species. Oral care goals will vary greatly depending on the type of animal and associated life-stage.
Dogs and Cats
Adult dogs have approximately 42 permanent teeth, but they aren’t born with them. In contrast, puppies start out with no teeth at all. By the time they are four weeks old, they’ve grown as many 28 temporary “milk” teeth. Milk teeth consist of two upper canines, two lower canines, six premolars per side. They are also very sharp to help puppies learn to chew food.
Somewhere around 4-6 months of age, deciduous teeth begin to fall out. Afterwards they are replaced with a permanent set of canines, incisors and premolars. Lastly, the molars develop. By seven months old, most puppies have a fully developed set of permanent teeth.
In contrast, cats follow a similar pattern, however they only have 30 permanent teeth. The number of canines and incisors is the same as for dogs, but they develop fewer premolars and molars. This is because cats are what scientists call “true carnivores,” meaning that they can’t digest plant or grain food items. Without eating meat, a cat will die. Therefore, feline teeth evolved for tearing off chunks of meat and swallowing it whole.
In contrast, horses are herbivores and as such, their teeth are designed for eating grass. As a result, the jaw moves sideways which allows grasses to be ground against their molars. An adult horse has six permanent incisors across the front of their mouth. Additionally, the cheek teeth make up the rest of the dental anatomy, with six premolars and six molars on each side.
As foals, the deciduous teeth start growing shortly after birth. By the time they are eight months old, all of the baby teeth have fully developed. After two years, these will fall out and be replaced by a full adult set.
Veterinary Periodontics and Exodontics
Periodontics is the prevention and treatment of diseases that affect the gums and structures that support teeth. It is also the most common type of dentistry practiced in small animal veterinary practices. Peridontics includes educating pet owners on oral care to treating peridontal disease.
Periodontal disease is very common among domesticated animals. It’s also almost entirely preventable through good oral health care. However, as it advances it poses a significant health risk to pets. This is because bacteria enters the bloodstream and damages the heart, liver and kidneys of pets. There is also a correlation between tooth loss and strokes in dogs.
Exodontics is the science of extracting teeth, which is considered oral surgery. Although this job is usually reserved for veterinarians, some states allow veterinary technicians to perform minor procedures. Regardless, the veterinary technician still needs a good working knowledge base. In addition to regular patient duties, they also set up surgical instruments and assist the veterinarian with the removal process.
Endodontics, Orthodontics and Prosthodontics
Orthodontics, endodontics and prosthodontics treats diseases of the inside of the tooth and alignment of the animal’s bite. This also includes repairing broken damaged teeth and false teeth.For this reason, it is considered an advanced specialty field, which also requires additional training.
Endodontics, orthodontics and prosthodontics covers root canal therapy, bite leveling, crowns, caps and implants. Because of the specialty of this field, equipment is highly specialized and materials are costly. Veterinary technicians support the veterinarian in this role. For example, the vet tech makes sure the veterinarian has a good set of x-rays, creates bite impressions, mixes dental compounds, and educates clients.
Regulations and Specialty Credentialing
At the highest level, veterinary technicians are regulated by NAVTA. Additionally, licensing requires passing a national exam. The professions guiding principles are set by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Model Practice Act. It provides a broad overview of conduct, rules and scope of practice for veterinary technicians.
How Does a Vet Tech Earn Credentials?
During two-year degree programs, students spend many hours in lectures, participating in wet labs, working alongside a mentor and preparing extensive case logs. They also complete extra hours of annual continuing education to maintain any specialty credential, above and beyond what is required for standard licensing.
Specialty credentials also have more competitive jobs. Animal dentistry clinics are becoming more popular, so this field continues to grow.
Other Skills of Animal Dentistry
Not everything can be taught in school. Veterinary technicians bring many beneficial traits with them into the professions. These traits include:
A nurturing disposition: At the heart of every veterinary technician is a drive to care for animals.
A sense of responsibility: Pet owners place an enormous amount of trust in veterinary technicians.
Natural curiosity and a love of learning: a veterinary technician is never done learning. In addition to annual continuing education requirements, they also face new challenges every day.
Intuition: Veterinary technicians must also be good at reading animal body language. In contrast to human medicine, veterinary technicians must piece together clues to understand the problem.
People skills: Although this field is animal-centered, a large part of the job involves interacting and communicating with people.
The ability to be humble: Many people outside of the profession aren’t aware of how extensively veterinary technicians are trained. A good veterinary technician sometimes has to swallow their pride when, yet another client asks, “Do you want to become a veterinarian?”
Attention to detail: Because of the intensive treatments, record keeping is and attention to detail are key.
No matter the setting, the field of animal dentistry has a bright future in veterinary medicine. Veterinary technicians will find work in many places outside of private practice including zoos, racetracks, farms, local governments, military installations, and universities.
Regardless of the location, there are many opportunities for veterinary technicians to thrive. From saving pet’s lives to helping people become better pet owners, veterinary technicians work hard to better animal welfare.
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.