Commonly Asked Questions
by Dental Hygienists about Veterinary Dentistry

Compiled by Carol Weldin, RDH, BS and Steven Holmstrom, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, Rev. 2007

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How long has dental hygiene been performed on animals?
To a certain extent, dental hygiene has been performed on animals since the origins of small animal veterinary medicine. Just as dentistry on humans has evolved and continues to evolve, so the technology of veterinary dentistry and veterinary dental hygiene develops continually. In most states, the veterinarian is specifically licensed to practice “Veterinary Medicine, Surgery and Dentistry.”

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Has anesthesia always been used?
For modern veterinary medicine and dentistry, yes. It is impossible to deliver complete and thorough prophylactic dental care, or perform periodontal procedures, without general  anesthesia: 
a) Patients will not hold still 
b) Risk of operator injury from being bitten is significant 
c) Inability to completely instrument the patient, and 
d) Inability to completely examine the patient.

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What types of anesthesia are used?
Inhalation anesthesia, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane are the most commonly used.

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What is the job description of a Veterinary Technician (Registered Veterinary Technician)?
The VT/RVT has a wide variety of duties. These range from animal care to surgical
assisting. The state Veterinary Practice Acts detail which procedures must be performed
by the VT with direct or indirect supervision, or in some cases which procedures may be
performed by an unlicensed or certified individual. The Veterinary Practice Act is usually
very specific in describing the legal limitations of individuals: Veterinarians are licensed
and VT’s/RVT’s are either certified or registered in the majority of states, while all others
are considered unlicensed veterinary assistants in the veterinary field, no matter what
their training (DDS, RDH, MD, etc.).

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What dental instruments are used on animals?
Virtually all of the instruments that are used in dentistry for humans are used in dentistry for animals.

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Is veterinary dental hygiene becoming more popular, or has it always been in demand?
As in many areas of medicine and dentistry, awareness is increasing. To the aware client and practitioner, the need has always been there. The numbers of dentally aware clients and practitioners have increased.

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Do you have to advertise dental hygiene for animals?
No, however, veterinary patients are examined yearly for their general health. The astute
Veterinarian will diagnose dental disease at this annual physical examination, if it has not
already been noted by the client.

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Is there a future for dental hygienists in veterinary dentistry?
There is a future for those who are willing to accept less income and take the additional
time to become a registered/certified  VT. The alternative would be in a practice with an
adequate staff and fee schedule to afford a VT as an anesthetist. Unfortunately, the
practice of veterinary medicine carries very high overhead. Unlike dentistry, where profit
margins may be in the 50-75% range; typically profit margins in veterinary medicine are in
the 15-35% range. This translates to lower incomes for the veterinarian and staff.

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What is the educational background of a veterinary technician?
The VT (RVT) program in most accredited schools is a two-year course in veterinary
anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, anesthesiology, radiology, nursing care, veterinary
dentistry, veterinary office practices, animal restraint, and related subjects. In some
states, there is an alternative program for registration whereby an individual may become
a VT by having documented experience in practice, course work, and examination
through unaccredited sources. Consult the Board of Examiners in Veterinary Medicine
in your state for more specific information.

There are several veterinary technology programs that have met American Veterinary
Medical Association standards to earn full accreditation rankings; of them, two currently
offer distance learning programs – St. Petersburg Community College in Florida and
Blue Ridge Community College In Virginia. Two additional programs are in the
process of seeking accreditation.

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What additional courses would a dental hygienist need to work in veterinary dentistry?
A full VT curriculum would be the most desirable.

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Are there general anesthesia requirements?
Yes.

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Who needs to be present when general anesthesia is administered?
It depends on the situation and the individuals involved. This also depends on the state
and the Veterinary Practice Act in that state. In California, the veterinarian must
administer anesthesia and is responsible for it. The VT may administer anesthesia when
the veterinarian is present, and not under direct supervision (the veterinarian must be in
the facility), if the veterinarian has judged that the individual is qualified. The
unregistered assistant may administer and monitor anesthesia only under direct
supervision (the veterinarian is present in the same room). Consult the state Board of
Veterinary Medicine for more information.

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Are there special education courses that are needed in working with wild animals?
In order to treat certain species, special education, permits and licenses are required.

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What instruments are most commonly used?
All the instruments used in dentistry on humans are used in animals – curettes, scalers,
periodontal probes and explorers, ultrasonics, sonics, prophy angles, slow and high
speed handpieces, intraoral radiography, etc., are all used in veterinary dental
practice.

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How long does it take to perform a full mouth prophylaxis on a dog or a cat?
45 to 90 minutes, depending on the stage of disease, size of patient, etc. Add on
anesthetic induction, intravenous fluid administration for the elderly, and recovery time
and the procedure can take 60 to 120 minutes.

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What are the average fees for a full mouth prophylaxis on a dog or a cat?
Approximately $400-800 for routine veterinary dental prophylaxis and radiographs; additional fees for periodontal therapy and/or surgery. The majority of the time this would include general anesthesia, monitoring and intravenous fluid support, with an additional person to monitor the anesthesia.

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Is veterinary dentistry prevention-oriented?
Yes – homecare instruction is given at an early age; ideally teeth are examined every
year at the time of annual vaccinations.

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How prevalent is periodontal disease in animals?
85% of animals over three years of age have periodontal disease.

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Recommended reading, for more information:
Veterinary Dental Techniques, WB Saunders: Holmstrom SE, Frost P, Eisner E.
Veterinary Dentistry for Technicians and Office Staff, WB Saunders: Holmstrom SE.
Veterinary Dentistry Principles & Practice, Lippincott-Raven: Wiggs RB & Lobprise HB.
Small Animal Dentistry, Mosby: Harvey CE & Emily P.
Small Animal Oral Medicine & Surgery, Lea & Febiger: Bojrab MJ & Emily P.

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For additional information:
Board of Examiners in Veterinary Medicine for Practice Act (CA): Phone 916-263-2610

Carol Weldin, RDH, BS, Liaison from the American Dental Hygienists Association to the American Veterinary Dental College: E-mail: carol.weldin@comcast.net

Steven E. Holmstrom, DVM, Past President, American Veterinary Dental Society and American Veterinary Dental College. E- mail: Steve@Toothvet.info.
American Veterinary Dental Society website: www.avds_online.org
American Veterinary Dental College website: www.avdc.org

American Animal Hospital Association Guidelines:
http://www.aahanet.org/About_aaha/About_Guidelines_dental.html

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