Can a registered dental hygienist scale and polish an animal’s teeth? It depends on the state. The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) defines veterinary dentistry as “the art and practice of oral health care in animals other than man.” A licensed veterinarian must diagnose, treat, and manage the oral health care of an animal. The AVDC permits certain healthcare professionals to assist and/or perform oral procedures on animals while under direct (in the room) supervision of a licensed veterinarian if state law permits. These professionals include certified, registered, or licensed veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants with advanced training, and licensed dentists and dental hygienists.
While there are similarities between treating animals and humans, there are some significant differences. Extensive education and training are necessary because the prophylaxis is considered a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia. Also, the oral anatomy of an animal is very different from a human. Learning how to administer anesthesia and closely monitor (heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, & pulse oxygenation) the pet while under anesthesia is imperative because lack of knowledge could mean the difference between life and death.
Unlike human prophylaxis, before any surgical procedure, an extensive exam including bloodwork is done to ensure that the animal is healthy enough to undergo surgery. Once the pet has been cleared, they will be sedated and intubated so that the procedure can be done quickly, thoroughly, and safely. Also, after the cleaning portion of the procedure, any teeth that are decayed, abscessed, fractured, mobile, or periodontally involved are removed.
Making the transition to veterinary dentistry is significant and so is the pay difference. Most clinics pay half the salary of human dental practices. Rules and regulations vary by state, and you must follow their direction if you are a registered dental hygienist seeking a position to practice veterinary dentistry.