Most people don’t like visits to their dentists, but that doesn’t mean they should keep their pets from going too. Bad breath may be a sign that a pet needs to go in for a dental check-up, but often it’s only when this gets bad that many pet owners look for help. And while it’s true that the procedure entails putting the pet to sleep with anesthesia, the result may be a pet with shiny white teeth that are free of plaque and major oral care surgery that has been prevented down the road.
Veterinary dental technicians may be the people assisting veterinarians with this dental cleaning or even doing significant parts of the cleaning themselves. Through a veterinarian dental technician school, these vet techs have learned the skills enabling them to carry out various parts of the cleaning. This may include helping give an animal anesthesia, assisting in intubating the animal with an IV, and checking vital signs during the entire cleaning process.
Other veterinary dental technicians may also use an ultrasound scaler to remove hardened plaque from the teeth and examine the teeth and the gum line for major problems. The veterinary dental technician will discuss any issues with a veterinarian and assist him or her in any further treatment that may be needed. Sometimes this might include extraction of a tooth. Finally, the veterinary dental technician makes note of any abnormalities in the teeth during the cleaning so that this information can be saved and referenced in the future.
Dental cleaning for pets can be considerably expensive given added costs for anesthesia and follow-up care that may be necessary (like those tooth extractions!), but it may be worth it. Approimately 80 percent of cats and dogs over the age of two have some sort of oral heath problem. Pet owners can be assured that their animals are in trusted hands when it comes to care by veterinary dental technicians. Often, these tech vets have had veterinary dental technician training and have gained additional skills on the job or through continuing education programs.
Employment opportunities for veterinarian technicians in the U.S. are considerably strong for a number of reasons. One significant cause is that veterinarian technicians are now needed to help complete tasks that require a high lever of skill, including assisting veterinarians with some of their more routine tasks. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job opportunities for veterinary technicians will grow by 52 percent from 2010 to 2020. This growth is considered much faster than average when compared with growth for all job occupations. Some 41,700 new veterinary technician positions are expected to be created as a result during this time.
Veterinary dental technicians could find employment in a number of places. This includes in veterinary clinics, but also in large animal facilities like zoos and wildlife centers, and in veterinary hospitals that primarily focus on dental care. Regional locations of The American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could also need veterinary dental technicians. The Massachusetts SPCA, as an example, has hired veterinary dental technicians to be part of its staff. As well, graduates of veterinary dental technician schools can also look for opportunities posted on the American Veterinary Medical Association job board that are related to veterinary dental technician employment.
Veterinary technician pay varies and can be reliant on a number of factors including prior experience, place of employment, scope of academic training and even vet tech specialty.
Specifically, the website SimplyHired notes that the average dental technician salary is $32,000, according to its September 2013 data. This is fairly comparable with what it lists as average pay for veterinary technicians in general – $33,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides job data and its information is similar to that of SimplyHired. It shows that the average median nationwide income for veterinary technicians was $30,290, as of its May 2013 data. Veterinary technicians in the highest 10 percent earned up to $44,030 while those in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $21,030. Veterinary dental tech salary information is not specifically available through the BLS, but neither is data on any other type of vet tech specialty.
Veterinary dental technician graduates will need to obtain licensure or become registered to be able to work in their state. Often this entails taking the Veterinary Technician National Examination, which is available through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. Passing this test and completing the other requirements necessary for licensing in a specific state can allow the technician to become a registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT) or certified vet technician (CVT), depending on the state’s guidelines.
Additional veterinary dental technician certification can be sought through the Academy of Dental Veterinary Technicians. The certification became available as of 2006 and grants those who pass the title of veterinary technician specialist, or VTS. Applicants for the VTS credential need to have a mentor work with them through the application process and at least 6,000 hours of time working as a veterinary technician. Approximately half of those hours should be in the field of veterinary dentistry.
Graduates of veterinary dental technician schools might also be interested in becoming a member of the American Veterinary Dental Society, which provides networking opportunities, a newsletter, and a subscription to the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry. Veterinary dental technicians may also want to join the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. The organization provides membership on three levels, including active, associate and student, and offers continuing education opportunities, news on upcoming vet tech events, and a subscription to the bi-monthly NAVTA Journal.
The BLS notes that specific qualities may be advantageous to being a successful veterinary technician. These include strong communication skills, which can be important to veterinary dental technicians when relaying information to a veterinarian about an animal’s dental health and in talking with the pet owner about the work done. Veterinary technicians should also possess manual dexterity, obviously beneficial in dental work, and be compassionate. They may need to remember that pet owners could be upset about their pets receiving anesthesia to have a dental cleaning or that the dental cleaning bill could be much higher than anticipated.
A two-year associate of science or applied science degree is generally in need of completion by students interested in starting a veterinary dental technician career. Most veterinary technician training programs provide a dentistry component as part of the curriculum, such as how the Heritage Institute’s Fort Myers Veterinary Technician School does through its animal dentistry coursework. The veterinary technician training program at Truckee Meadows Community College in Nevada, by comparison, includes its dental training through a course called Anesthesia, Surgical Nursing and Dental Procedures. Students interested in working in the veterinary dental technical field should be sure to double-check their program of interest contains a dentistry component before starting. Many students of veterinary technician programs are required to complete an internship, externship or volunteer as part of their degree program. Students interested in veterinary dentistry may want to gear that experience specifically toward the animal dentistry field.