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 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 assist veterinarians with this dental cleaning and even complete 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 (tooth extractions), but it may be worth it. Pet owners can rest assured that their animals are in trusted hands when it comes to veterinary dental technicians, especially the credentialed vet tech specialists—i.e., those with the VTS (Dentistry) designation, which is explored below.
Career Outlook For Vet Dental Techs
Employment opportunities for veterinarian technicians in the U.S. are strong for a number of reasons. Vet techs are now needed to help complete tasks that require a high level 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 19 percent from 2018 to 2028. This is much faster than the projected average growth among all U.S. occupations during the same period (5 percent). The BLS adds that 21,100 new veterinary technician positions are expected to be created during that decade.
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. Additionally, 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 Dental Tech Salary Data
Veterinary technician pay varies and relies on a number of factors, including prior experience, place of employment, scope of academic training, and even one’s vet tech specialty. While there are not reliable figures for veterinary dental techs specifically, a majority of licensed, registered, or certified vet techs have dental skills.
Specifically, SimplyHired notes that the average vet tech salary is $32,000, according to its September 2019 data. This is slightly lower than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, which notes that the average median income nationwide for veterinary technicians was $35,560, as of its May 2018 data. Veterinary technicians in the highest 10 percent earned $50,010 (and up) while those in the lowest 10 percent earned $23,490 (and below). Please note that veterinary dental tech salary information is not specifically available through the BLS and neither is data on any other type of vet tech specialty.
Veterinary Dental Technician Licensing & Certification
Veterinary dental technician graduates will need to obtain licensure, registration, or certification to work in their state of residence. Although the procedure varies by state, this credentialing process typically 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 (Dentistry) credential must work with a mentor for two years. To qualify for the mentorship, they must have three years of work experience (i.e., at least 6,000 hours of time working as a credentialed veterinary technician). At least one-third of those hours should be in the field of veterinary dentistry. Following acceptance to the two-year program, they must commit to 4,000 hours of practicing veterinary technology under the guidance of the mentor, including 3,000 hours in the field of vet dentistry. Following the two-year guided program, the applicant must pass the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technician (AVDT) exam, which comprises two parts and is offered once per year.
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.
Educational Requirements & Applicable Experience
Two-year (associate) and four-year (bachelor’s) veterinary technician training programs generally provide a dentistry component as part of the curriculum. For example, the vet tech program at Truckee Meadows Community College in Nevada includes its dental component in a course called “anesthesia, surgical nursing and dental procedures.” Students interested in working in the veterinary dental technical field should double-check that their program of interest contains a dentistry component before enrolling. Many students of veterinary technician programs are required to complete an internship, externship, or practicum as part of their degree program, and students interested in veterinary dentistry will want to gear that experience specifically toward the animal dentistry field to begin accruing hours in pursuit of the VTS (Dentistry) credential.