The role of technicians and assistants

Credentialed veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants have a prominent role in canine and feline dental care. Highly efficient veterinary dental practices fully use and empower them in both the exam room and the dental suite. The Guidelines Task Force strongly encourages veterinary practices to support the training and education of their veterinary technicians and assistants to assume a larger and appropriate role in dental practice. In the exam room, they should obtain a patient medical and dental history. They should be able to explain to the client the dental procedures indicated, answer questions, translate veterinary diagnoses into lay terms, and reassure the client by demonstrating expertise in dentistry.

In the dental suite, a credentialed veterinary technician should perform both a conscious and anesthetized initial oral exam and dictate charting to a veterinary assistant, take diagnostic radiographs, perform cleaning procedures, and place regional blocks if indicated. Because extractions are considered oral surgery, they should not be performed by veterinary technicians. Veterinarians need to provide the appropriate level of oversight and supervision as required by their state practice acts.

Veterinary technicians and assistants are the veterinary team’s patient advocates and client educators. They should spend time with the pet owner before and at the time of discharge, explaining the procedures and treatments performed, home oral hygiene, and medications. In addition, they should interview the client to determine the best home dental care options for the pet and advise, demonstrate, and instruct the owners on how to provide quality home oral hygiene for their pet.

Practices should encourage continuing education and training of veterinary team members. Enabling team members to increase the level of their training and education brings satisfaction and contributes to the retention of skilled personnel. Delineation of duties based upon the training and education of the staff also benefits the practice by fully using the team and ensuring patient safety. Many skills in dentistry should be only performed by credentialed veterinary technicians with the knowledge base to understand how to perform a skill and understand why a procedure is performed and the risks associated with each task.

The highest level of training and certification is the Veterinary Technician Specialist in Dentistry, designated as VTS (Dentistry). This certification is issued by the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians and awarded to credentialed veterinary technicians who complete a rigorous 2 yr process of education. VTS (Dentistry) training includes both didactic and experiential learning culminating in a credential examination. Although most credentialed veterinary technicians may not have the interest to pursue VTS (Dentistry) training, companion animal practices should support and encourage basic and advanced continuing education in dentistry for all team members. Trained veterinary assistants are valued members of the practice team and should act as assistants to the credentialed veterinary technician. Care should be given to assure that veterinary assistants are only performing tasks appropriate to their skill level and their state’s practice act.

Click here for more information on the roles and responsibilities of veterinary teams in dental healthcare.