How To Become A Veterinary Dentist

Whether it’s a tooth that needs to be pulled, periodontal disease in need of treatment or a root canal for alleviating pain, animals and pets require dental care, too. Since animals cannot verbally say what they need, regular check-ups and care by a board-certified veterinary dentist may be all the more important. Like other veterinarians, veterinary dentists complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, but then they go on to seek specialty training in the field. In fact, dentistry is one of the 22 specialty fields that is recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and requires two to six years of specific training.  The residency prepares students for the process of board certification, but students may need to complete other advanced credential requirements to be able to sit for the certifying exam.

Only when veterinarians have passed this exam do they become board certified and gain the ability to refer to themselves as a ‘diplomate’ of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) or of another specialty. What do these board-certified veterinary dentists do? As the Veterinary Dental Clinic, based out of  Stafford, Texas, points out, veterinary dentists are responsible for a wide range of tasks, including evaluating the mouth of both breeding and show animals, removing oral tumors in bone and soft tissue, saving teeth by use of a filling, root canal procedure or crown, and treating any oral issues that may be apparent from birth or be caused by injury. Veterinary dentists also provide care for numerous other conditions, such as abscessed teeth, gingivitis, fractured teeth, malocclusions (the way the lower and upper teeth fit together, or in the case of a malocclusion, do not fit together), and stomatitis (or inflammation inside of the mouth). Board-certified veterinarians have the advantage of being able to  post their credential on their website or after their name (as in ‘Diplomate AVDC) and also will be listed on the AVDC website as either specializing  in dentistry for all animals or specifically for horses and other equids.

Certifications and Requirements to Become a Veterinary Dentist

All veterinarians need to be licensed in the state in which they work, and this is true for veterinary dentists as well as other types of veterinary specialists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the licensing requirements vary by state, but generally require graduation from an accredited DVM program as well as passage on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), which is offered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. This computer-based licensing exam covers 360 multiple-choice questions and is only available at certain times of the year, including a two-week window in April and a four-week window in November and December.

Many licensing processes take place through a state’s veterinary medical board. In Florida, licensing is done through the Florida Department of Professional Regulation & Business. Graduation from an accredited program, passage of the NAVLE and passing an exam of Florida’s own rules and exam is required. In Washington state, licensing requires graduation from an accredited school, four hours of HIV/AIDS training, a personal statement in response to various questions, passage of the NAVLE and passing the Washington State Jurisprudence Examination. As well, states can have specific requirements about licensing renewal and continuing education. For example, in Washington, licenses have to be renewed annually and 30 credits of continuing education need to be completed every three years. A search query on the Internet will generally reveal the website that veterinarians can turn to to find out more about the licensing requirements in a specific state.

Steps to Becoming a Veterinary Dentist

One of the first steps in becoming a veterinary dentist is to complete a veterinary degree program. These typically take four years to complete beyond time invested in obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Competition for entry into vet programs in the U.S. can be fierce, which is why high undergraduate grades and other indicators of potential success can be important to gaining admission into a desired program. Program directors may even be interested in interviewing potential students applying to schools, of which the BLS reports there are only 29 accredited programs in the United States. The AVMA provides a list of accredited schools within the U.S. Because there are not schools located in every state, some states, such as Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota, have none while other states, like Alabama and California, have more than one.

Following completion of their degree, veterinarians should begin to look for opportunities to gain experience in dentistry. In fact, to even be eligible to seek dentistry board certification, veterinarians must complete a residency in dentistry. Fortunately, the AVDC provides a list of residency opportunities available at more than 20 locations across the U.S., including in dental clinics and universities in locations as varied as Towson, Md., Lenexa, Kansas and San Carlos, Calif. To be eligible for board certification, applicants do have to complete a residency at an AVDC-approved site. Residencies provide students with in-depth, hands-on clinical skills. For example, at the vet dental residency program available through the University of California, Davis, students do clinical services rotations, provide patient care and specialty consultations, and undertake teaching and research. The residency program can also form the basis for completing a PhD program if a student wishes.

When a student has completed their residency, he or she may be ready to seek certification through the AVDC. The organization does not provide detailed information on its website about the additional steps needed for testing and eligibility, but e-mailing the organization could lead to more information. As well, students completing a veterinary dentistry residency need to have a log-in with the AVDC, so will likely be able to access more pertinent information. After becoming board certified, veterinary dentists may need to meet continuing education (CE) opportunities to keep their certification. The AVDC provides a list of CE opportunities that are available and meet AVDC guidelines. Veterinarians may also be interested in joining the American Veterinary Dental Society or the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry at some point to expand their access to networking and training resources.

Barry Franklin (Editor)

Barry is the Managing Editor of VetTechColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Previously, Barry served as a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. In addition to running editorial operations at Sechel, Barry also serves on the Board of Trustees at a local K-8 school, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University. He presently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family and their black maltipoo.