Teeth and mouths are windows into health for pets as much as they are for humans, and pets can suffer from many of the same oral issues that humans can. Regular cleanings for pet mouths can lead to many positive effects for an animal, like preventing bad breath, keeping teeth strong enough for chewing and eating, and preventing major oral surgeries as a pet advances into older age. In addition, keeping a pet’s mouth clean keeps the pet’s body healthy by preventing bacteria in plaque from entering the animal’s bloodstream.
Veterinary dental technicians are a crucial part of an animal’s oral care team. Trained to assist veterinarians in all parts of the dental visit, dental vet techs are specially trained to help with a wide variety of teeth-helping tasks. Dental vet techs assist during cleanings and oral surgery, administer local or regional anesthesia, intubate, help with cleanings, check vital signs, operate diagnostic equipment, operate certain oral care equipment during the cleaning, collect and analyze labs, assist with documentation, and more.
Because the skills for caring for animal teeth are so specific, veterinary technicians can work to become certified as a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) in dentistry. After two to four years of training, they can become registered or certified vet techs. These professionals can focus their work experience to cultivate their skills in assisting veterinarians with caring for the oral health of animals.
While a specialty credential is not necessary to work as a veterinary technician, choosing to specialize can make a vet tech more competitive in the job market, lead to higher wages, and lead to a vet tech career specifically focused on what the vet tech is passionate about within the world of veterinary medicine.
To learn more about the veterinary dental technician career outlook, potential earning power, and how to become a vet tech who specializes in caring for the mouths of animals, keep reading.
Career Outlook for Vet Dental Techs
From an occupational growth standpoint, the future for veterinary dental technicians is bright. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), the predicted growth rate for the vet tech occupation is 16 percent between 2019 and 2029. This growth rate is four times faster than the predicted national average of 4 percent, and will add 18,300 new vet tech jobs to the market during that time.
CareerOneStop (2021) predicts that this much faster than average growth rate translates into the vet tech career being the 5th fastest-growing career for those with associate’s level degrees. The increase in pet ownership, in combination with veterinarians having a growing need for high-skilled, well-trained help means that there will be work for vet techs as time goes by.
Veterinary dental technicians will find that there is work in a wide range of facilities. A dental vet tech may find themselves working in a clinic, an animal hospital, a zoo, a wildlife center, a research lab, or in a veterinary medicine facility that is specifically focused on animal dental care.
For example, the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians—the official certifying body for dental vet techs—has an employment opportunities board. On this board, there are opportunities for veterinary dental technicians at The Pet Dentist, Pure Paws Veterinary Clinic, Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Specialists, Cornell University Hospital for Animals, Pet Crusade Animal Health, and more.
Veterinary Dental Tech Salary Data
Salaries can vary greatly depending on years of experience, level of training, specialization certification, region, animal population, facility type, and more. From the most zoomed-out perspective, the BLS (May 2020) reports that the average annual salary for a generalized vet tech was $37,860 or $18.20 per hour.
The following table represents what vet techs in the United States earned at various earning percentiles in 2020:
|Number of vet techs employed||109,490|
|Average annual salary||$37,860|
|50th percentile (median)||$36,260|
According to ZipRecruiter (June 2021)—a job board website that calculates salaries based on job posting and third-party data—the average annual pay for a veterinary dental technician in the U.S. was $41,523 per year. When looking at this data, it’s important to note that roles included in this calculation hold titles like “head of veterinary technicians,” “assistant veterinary surgeon,” and “work from home veterinary hospital administrator.”
With that reality, the figures at ZipRecruiter are clearly including positions that a dental vet tech could hold, but the annual figure isn’t specifically targeted to those who are simply holding a vet tech role in dentistry.
Educational Requirements and Applicable Experience for Veterinary Dental Techs
The level of education required to become a dental vet tech depends upon whether that vet tech is on a credentialing journey. At the time of this writing, there are no official credentials required to practice as a vet tech in some states. In these states, it is possible that those without a high school diploma could find work as a vet tech, and “specialize” in dental care unofficially through work experience.
While this is a possibility, it is becoming more recognized across the vet tech field that the vet tech position requires high-level skills and specific training. As a result, many states do require licensing. In states where licensing is required for a vet tech to practice, the minimum educational requirement is as an associate’s level degree. Because certification is not required to work as a dental vet tech, a certified vet tech could pursue a career focused on dental work without ever earning certification, if they so choose.
However, for those who wish to gain a competitive edge in the job market, honor their specialized knowledge, and possibly qualify for higher wages, the certification route may be the best choice. Detailed information on the experience and educational requirements for those who wish to become officially certified veterinary dental technicians can be found in the next section.
How to Earn A Veterinary Dental Technician Certification
Veterinary technician specialists in dentistry [VTS (Dentistry)] are certified/registered/licensed vet techs who choose to undergo a multi-year post-graduation certification process to prove their skills in animal dentistry. The following details how to earn a veterinary dental technician certification.
Step 1: Become a Licensed, Certified, or Registered Veterinary Technician (Two to Four Years).
While not all states require licensing for generalized vet techs to practice, the VTS-Dentistry credentialing organization only allows certified vet techs to apply for the dentistry specialization. The simplest route to certification is to graduate from a vet tech program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Accredited vet tech programs ensure a vet tech has all the general skills they need to join a vet med team, and they prepare graduates to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). A registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT), or certified vet technician (CVT) is one who has passed the VTNE with a score of 70 percent or higher. A passing score on the VTNE qualifies a vet tech to practice in certain states and is the first step to becoming a certified veterinary dental technician.
Step 2: Gain Work Experience to Qualify for VTS (Dentistry) Certification Program (Three Years or More).
Becoming a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) requires a vet tech to prove their specialty knowledge and skill. For veterinary dental technicians, certification happens through the Academy of Dental Veterinary Technicians (ADVT). ADVT is the only certifying body for dental vet techs that is recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) Committee on Veterinary Technicians Specialties (CVTS), the organization that provides standardized criteria for vet tech specialist credentialing institutions.
There are three phases to becoming a certified veterinary dental technician. The first phase happens before a vet tech applies to ADVT. To qualify to apply to ADVT for veterinary dental technician certification, a vet tech must:
- Gain 6,000 hours (three years) experience as a vet tech.
- Prove that 2,000 of those hours were in dental assisting.
- Have a NAVTA membership, and be in good standing.
- Work or volunteer somewhere that they can take intraoral x-rays.
Step 3: Commit to the ADVT Program (Two Years).
Once a vet tech is accepted into the ADVT credentialing process, they have to commit to the two-year program, which will require the vet tech to do the following:
- Find a mentor who is VTS (Dentistry) certified.
- Commit to completing 3,200 hours of vet tech practice.
- Commit to ensuring that 2,780 of that practice will be in vet dentistry.
Step 4: Complete All The VTS (Dentistry) Certification Requirements (Timeline Varies).
Once the vet tech has been accepted and has committed to the process, they have two years to complete requirements and submit all of the following to ADVT:
- Forms proving that the vet tech completed the 3,200/2,780 hour requirement.
- Proof of completing 27 hours in continuing education (CE) wet lab training
- Proof of completing 19 hours of advanced dental procedures CE lectures
- Case logs for 75 cases
- Five detailed case reports
- One dental chart from each case log category
- Two sets of intra-oral dental radiographs, one of a dog and one of a cat
- Photos of equipment, instruments, and supplies, accurately labeled and arranged by category
- Proof of completing readings from the required list
- Skills form
Step 5: Pass the VTS (Dentistry) Exam.
The VTS (Dentistry) exam has two parts. The first part is a 150 to 200 question written exam which the candidate will take remotely. The second part is a practical, hands-on, in-person test. The exam is offered once per year. Upon passing the exam, the vet tech earns the title VTS (Dentistry).
Professional Resources for Dental Veterinary Technicians
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 pursuing certification are required to become members of National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). 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.