Vet Blog

What is a Veterinary Dentist? Does My Pet Need a Veterinary Dentist?

April 24, 2024

Historically, most veterinary schools have failed their students by not providing adequate dental education and training. In fact, most practicing veterinarians have had little to no dental education. This is very unfair to general practitioners who love their profession and genuinely want to do the best job possible for their patients. Veterinary schools provide the education, training, and skills for their graduates to handle many health issues seen in general practice. However, the most diagnosed problem seen daily is periodontal disease.

Many veterinarians understand their educational shortcomings and take it upon themselves to learn more. They attend dentistry lectures and labs to build confidence and improve their skills. They can adequately perform a variety of dental procedures and refer to a specialist for more advanced procedures or issues that are out of their comfort level. Sadly, many do not and just rely upon “on the job training”. They want to help but find themselves performing procedures that are beyond their skill level. Unfortunately, many times, it is left up to the pet owner to figure out the dentistry knowledge and skills of their veterinarian.

Veterinary Dentists are board certified specialists through the American Veterinary Dental College. All AVDC Diplomates have performed a rigorous 3+ year residency program followed by both a written and practical board exam post veterinary school. All Veterinary Dentists are trained in:

  • Prevention of oral disease
  • Juvenile dentistry
  • Periodontal disease treatment and repair
  • Endodontics – standard and surgical root canal therapy, vital pulp therapy
  • Prosthodontics – crowns
  • Orthodontics – for treatment of traumatic malocclusions
  • Cleft palate and cleft lip surgical repair
  • Oncologic (cancer) surgery and staging
  • Mandibular and maxillary fracture repair
  • Tooth resorption
  • Canine and feline stomatitis
  • Oronasal fistula repair
  • Receive additional training in imaging, pain management, and anesthesia
  • Many more oral diseases

Veterinary surgeons are very skilled and have also gone through a rigorous residency program. However, their residency program did not focus nearly as much on the oral cavity. Veterinary Dentists receive much more training in the oral cavity than all other specialties. There is a reason why a human surgeon who repairs your ACL does not also repair your broken jaw.

Care provided by a board certified veterinary dentist cost more than the fees received by a general practice. A veterinary dentist has 3+ more years of a residency education. They had to pass two very difficult board examinations to become a specialist. They have a highly trained dental staff. They have more expensive and advanced equipment. A skilled veterinary dentist can do procedures much quicker meaning less time for your pet under general anesthesia.

So, should you take your pet to a veterinary dentist? That is a decision only you can make. If you want the comfort level of knowing you are receiving the best care available, then yes. If your pet’s veterinarian has adequate training, they likely can handle a lot of its dental care. If your veterinarian thinks you need to be referred to a specialist, it’s probably wise to follow their recommendation.