How This Vet Ended Up Becoming a Dentist

Vet Checking Cat's Teeth

I don’t know one veterinarian who went to school to become a dentist, and yet I’ll wager that most of us spend a significant percentage of our working lives practicing dental medicine on our patients. I got to thinking about this after a particularly harrowing Thursday (my big dentistry day). Exhausted after performing several time-intensive dental procedures, I wondered what percentage of my time I’d been dedicating to dentistry lately.

Though I’ll probably never know exactly, as it happens, I learned that it wasn't too tough to get an estimate. Based on last year’s dental intakes, I was able to establish that almost 12 percent of my income was attributable to dental procedures. Add in the exam room time, pre-anesthetic labwork and peri-procedural medications prescribed, and it becomes clear that at least 15 percent of my income (a rough approximation of how my working life is apportioned) is dedicated to dentistry.

Which shocked me. When exactly did I turn into a dentist?

A Low Priority Two Decades Ago

The truth is that when I graduated from veterinary school back in the mid-’90s, the program I attended at the University of Pennsylvania did not require a clinical rotation in dentistry. Which effectively means that most of us were expected to apply what we’d learned in our core classwork (in anatomy, physiology and pathology, among others) to an area of veterinary medicine we’d never been clinically trained in.

At the time, it was an effective-enough approach. After all, dentistry was the red-headed stepchild of the veterinary world. Back then, it was common for essentially untrained technicians to perform routine dentistry procedures. In fact, I worked at several hospitals where it was standard practice for techs to extract teeth! Why would any self-respecting veterinarian dirty her hands with a procedure her tech could do "perfectly well?"


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