Dentistry with a wild side! David Gibson, Marketing Manager of Eschmann

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  Posted by: Dental Design      14th December 2019

It’s easy to forget that animals have tooth troubles too. Indeed, although the natural world is devoid of dentists, it’s not uncommon for animals of all shapes and sizes to experience the same dental conditions that we as humans do. While you would think a simple extraction would be the answer in most cases, animal dentistry also sees complex treatments such as endodontics and even orthodontics, which require specialist attention from individuals who are able to not only understand animals’ needs and biology, but also effectively provide these treatments to improve their quality of life.

Susan Thorne, the Clinical Lead at DentalVets, explains the business and her duties:

“DentalVets is a specialist veterinary dental practice that treats cats and dogs, but also zoo species when required in Scotland. I am in charge of overseeing all treatments and procedures within the practice.

“An average day for us in the practice involves seeing around 6 – 8 patients per day. These are usually dogs and cats, but we also treat zoo animals within Scotland when requested. We perform a vast array of treatments within the practice. These include oral surgery, periodontics, orthodontics and endodontics. Our most common and regular treatments are probably endodontic treatments of fractured teeth and crown reduction and vital pulp therapy of lingually displaced mandibular canines.

“All of the treatment we provide is solely for the good of the animal – it’s not about aesthetics. Therefore, complex orthodontic treatments are only performed to relieve pain not for aesthetic purposes.

“Treating zoo patients is a little different depending on the species in question. If the animal is a carnivore, we can usually treat it in a similar way that we would a cat or dog. If the animal is a herbivore, however, we would enlist the help of equine dentists as these teeth are more similar to horse teeth and would require a different approach. In the past we have treated all manner of animals including bears, tigers and rhinos – every case is different!”

Of course, treating animals with complex conditions such as these means a long and varied career path. Susan Thorne explains:

“Before working in my current position, I was a general practice vet. Although this did involve some dental work (mostly scaling and polishing of teeth and extractions) it was a more general approach to dentistry. I worked with both large and small animals and spent my holidays in places such as South Africa studying incredible creatures like lions and great white sharks. However, after I realised I wanted to concentrate more on dentistry, I started a residency in Veterinary Dentistry governed by the American Veterinary Dental College in order to hopefully become a specialist.”

Of course, as one would expect, working with animals brings certain challenges that are unlike those faced by dentists dealing with humans.

“One of the biggest challenges in veterinary dentistry is that our patients are unable to tell us if they are in pain or what is painful.  We have to determine oral pain by diagnosing pathology based on how the teeth look visually and radiographically and through clinical examination of the patient. We try to overcome this communication barrier by relying on what humans report to be painful and use this information to help our veterinary patients.   

“Zoo animals raise even more challenges. Dental equipment does not exist to specifically treat these larger animals, which often means we have to improvise to make instruments bigger or longer.

“All of our treatments require the animal to be fully anaesthetised which carries its own risks and limitations when it comes to dentistry. Zoo animals can’t be brought back to our practice, and this means that we have to team up with specialist anesthetists and zoo vets and we then integrate our various disciplines on site during these treatments.”   

Infection control is another aspect that provides challenges for those working with animals. Although smaller creatures such as cats and dogs can be treated in a sterile practice, larger animals such as bears and rhinos must be treated on site, and this means that veterinary dental professionals have to approach infection control differently.

“In our practice, the approach to infection control isn’t too different from what you would find in a standard dental surgery for humans. All instruments are sterilised between uses and treatment areas are kept clean and sterile throughout the day. The challenge arises when we have to travel to zoos to treat animals onsite. As there is no way of knowing whether these big animals are carrying any diseases and infections that could be transferable to dogs or cats, we only use single use items instead of using instruments and bringing them back into the practice for sterilisation.”

In the end, animals require exceptional dental care just as much as humans. By providing a wide array of treatments and overcoming the communication, location and even species-specific challenges, professionals at DentalVets are able to ensure that all creatures great and small can benefit from an improved quality of life.








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