Vice President of Media Strategy, NAVC
Dentistry training may be required in U.S. veterinary schools if the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Council on Education (COE) adopts a proposal to add dentistry to its accreditation standard on curriculum. Currently, dentistry courses are electives in most veterinary programs in the country. The AVMA COE will make a decision during its next meeting Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.
If the proposal passes, veterinary students would get significantly more hands-on training and experience in tooth extractions and periodontal disease.
“Honestly, it should have occurred years ago,” says Brenda L. Mulherin, DVM, DAVDC and Clinical Professor of Dentistry and Oral Surgery at Iowa State University. “Veterinary dentistry is something that almost all general practitioners will need to have some knowledge of—whether you are a large animal practitioner, mixed animal, or small animal practitioner. Small mammal and exotic/zoo practitioners need to have some basic knowledge of veterinary dentistry. While most practitioners will need to perform some type of oral procedure at least once in their career, the knowledge that is bestowed upon most graduates is minimal.”
Dentistry Courses Are Often Electives at CVMs
At Iowa State University, where Dr. Mulherin practices, the current curriculum for the first 3 years of learning is only one, 50-minute lecture given to all students. “An additional lecture is given in a feline medicine course and 1 additional lecture in a small mammal and exotics course, but these courses are both electives,” says Dr. Mulherin.
While Iowa State also offers a University of Illinois-sponsored online course that many students take advantage of to expand their education in veterinary dentistry, it is an elective. The only requirement for graduation is the single 50-minute lecture. “This is similar to many academic institutions, especially those that do not have a boarded diplomate on staff or others who have advanced training in veterinary dentistry,” says Dr. Mulherin.
The proposed addition, which was developed by the COE Academic Affairs Committee, would provide the following:
“Instruction in both the theory and practice of medicine and surgery applicable to a broad range of species. The instruction must include principles and hands-on experiences in physical and laboratory diagnostic methods and interpretation (including diagnostic imaging, diagnostic pathology, and necropsy), disease prevention, biosecurity, therapeutic intervention (including surgery and dentistry), and patient management and care (including intensive care, emergency medicine, and isolation procedures) involving clinical diseases of individual animals and populations. Instruction should emphasize problem solving that results in making and applying medical judgments.”
The committee notes that “dentistry is an integral part of veterinary medical practice and is a crucial component for the health and welfare of multiple animal species. It is essential that students are trained in dentistry.”
Dentistry and Quality of Life for Pets
“Knowledge of veterinary dentistry not only benefits the quality of life for the patients, it increases the quality of life for the owner and the veterinary practitioner as well,” says Dr. Mulherin. “Veterinary dentistry is also an income generator for the general practitioner. A student once coined it the ‘renewable neuter.’ Most dogs and cats need to be spayed/neutered at some point in their life. Most dogs and cats need to have dental cleanings multiple times in their lives—ideally every 9 to 12 months.”
Students lack the confidence and skill to be able to treat some of these common conditions, says Dr. Mulherin. “Adding additional training and education in veterinary dentistry will help the general practitioner provide basic care to their patients and hopefully allow them to be able to treat patients in a less traumatic, more efficient way,” she says.
Many of the extractions a specialist performs could be done by a general practitioner if they had the time, confidence and some basic skills, says Dr. Mulherin. “The most common referral I receive from general practitioners is extraction of a mandibular canine or mandibular first molar tooth,” she says. “Young and seasoned practitioners alike have reservations regarding these teeth as they are afraid of fracturing the jaw. With more clinical experience, practice and knowledge in dentistry, these procedures could be done by general practitioners.”
Dr. Mulherin hopes that the proposed COE change will result in expanding dental education for veterinary students so that they will have more confidence and are excited about dentistry.
“This proposal is only the beginning,” says Dr. Mulherin. “Now we need to work on recruiting specialists to the academic setting to be able to provide the education.”
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