What is a Veterinary Dentist?

smiling veterinarian talking with woman and her dog in office

What is a Veterinary Dentist?

Over the past three decades, the veterinary profession has advanced dramatically in the standards of patient care and technology. In the vast realm of veterinary medicine, there exists a specialized field that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated but plays a crucial role in the overall well-being of our beloved pets–veterinary dentistry.

Just as humans seek the expertise of dentists to maintain oral health, animals also benefit from the care provided by veterinary dentists. In this blog post, we’ll explore the fascinating world of veterinary dentistry, shedding light on the responsibilities and importance of these professionals in ensuring the oral health of our furry companions.

What is a Veterinary Dentist?

A veterinary dentist is a trained and qualified professional who specializes in the oral health care of animals. These individuals have undergone extensive education and training to understand the unique dental anatomy and oral diseases affecting various species.

To become a veterinary dentist, they must go through the rigorous residency program of the American Veterinary Dental College. This involves being accepted into an accredited 3-year residency program at either a specialty practice or veterinary college. They will work closely with a board-certified veterinary dentist as their supervisor. They must complete extensive casework, write and publish in an accepted veterinary journal, and become proficient in specialty dentistry and oral surgery. Only then can they become credentialed by the AVDC, but they are still not board-certified.

How Do Veterinary Dentists Become Board-Certified?

Credentialed candidates are board-eligible and can then sit for one of the most challenging specialty examinations in the veterinary profession. The AVDC examination is an arduous multiple-stage test stretched out over a roughly 6 month time period. The test currently has about a 33% first-time pass rate and an overall 50% pass rate. Only after passing this test are they truly board-certified veterinary dentists and oral surgeons. There are presently less than 300 board-certified veterinary dentists in the AVDC. 

However, the learning process is never truly done, and rightly so. Veterinary dentists often engage in continuing education to stay abreast of the latest advancements in dental technologies and treatment modalities. This commitment to ongoing learning ensures that they can provide the best possible care for their animal patients.

Many veterinary dentists then go on to lecture and teach general practice veterinarians and veterinary technicians in veterinary skills that can be utilized on a daily basis in the “trenches” of general practice. 

Scope of Practice

Veterinary dentists cater to a wide array of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and exotic pets. Their scope of practice encompasses preventive care, diagnostics, and various treatment modalities to address dental and oral issues. Some of the key responsibilities of a veterinary dentist include:

1. Dental Examinations

Conducting thorough dental examinations is a fundamental aspect of a veterinary dentist’s role. This involves assessing the oral cavity, teeth, and gums for signs of disease or abnormalities. Early detection is crucial in preventing the progression of dental issues. It is vital to remember that many animals will not allow a complete oral examination while awake. The only way to complete this is with a patient safely placed under anesthesia. 

2. Dental Cleanings

Veterinary dentists perform professional dental cleanings to remove plaque and tartar buildup from an animal’s teeth. This procedure is essential in preventing periodontal disease, a common issue among pets.

3. Diagnostics

Utilizing diagnostic tools such as dental radiography and cone beam computed tomography, veterinary dentists can identify hidden dental problems, including tooth root abscesses, fractures, or abnormalities not visible during a regular examination.

4. Oral Surgery

When necessary, veterinary dentists may perform oral surgeries to extract damaged or diseased teeth, address oral tumors, or correct congenital abnormalities. These procedures are carried out with precision and care to ensure the well-being of the animal.

Many pet owners and members of the veterinary profession do not realize all board-certified veterinary dentists are also oral surgeons. Veterinary dentists are typically the only specialists who are truly oral surgeons since they are equipped with the necessary equipment, such as dental radiographs, cone beam computed tomography, piezotome surgical units, and high-speed intra-oral equipment required to perform oral surgery. 

5. Treatment of Oral Diseases

Veterinary dentists are equipped to manage a variety of oral diseases, including gingivitis, stomatitis, fractured teeth, and malocclusions. They develop tailored treatment plans to address each patient’s unique needs.

The Importance of Veterinary Dentistry

The significance of veterinary dentistry extends beyond the mere prevention and treatment of dental issues. Proper oral care has a direct impact on an animal’s overall health and quality of life. Here are some key reasons why veterinary dentistry is crucial:

  1. Prevention of Pain and Discomfort: Dental issues, if left untreated, can lead to pain, discomfort, and a decreased quality of life for animals. Regular dental check-ups and preventive care provided by veterinary dentists help alleviate and prevent such issues.
  2. Prevention of Systemic Diseases: Poor oral health in animals can contribute to the development of systemic diseases. Bacteria originating from dental problems can enter the bloodstream, potentially affecting vital organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. It has been documented that periodontal disease is associated with negative tissue changes in the heart, liver, and kidneys. The worse the periodontal disease, the more severe the negative tissue changes are. 
  3. Enhancement of Lifespan: Maintaining good oral health contributes to an animal’s overall well-being and can extend their lifespan. A healthy mouth allows for proper nutrition and reduces the risk of systemic diseases that could compromise the animal’s longevity.
  4. Improved Quality of Life: Animals with healthy teeth and gums are more likely to exhibit normal behaviors, enjoy their meals, and engage in social interactions. Veterinary dentistry plays a pivotal role in ensuring that pets lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Veterinary Dentists in Colorado Springs

In conclusion, the role of a veterinary dentist is indispensable in safeguarding the oral health and overall well-being of our animal companions. These dedicated professionals bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table, working tirelessly to prevent, diagnose, and treat a myriad of dental issues in a variety of species. As responsible pet owners, recognizing the importance of veterinary dentistry and incorporating regular dental care into our pets’ wellness routines can contribute to a happier, healthier, and longer life for our beloved furry friends. 

If you are in the Colorado Springs area, the doctors and staff at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery can help you with your pet’s oral health care needs. 


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/29/2024). Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels