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Students learn value of dentistry for pets
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Veterinary practices for years largely ignored dental problems, but a movement within the profession now is giving it the attention it deserves.
Dr. Bill Nalley, veterinarian with Animal Care Hospital in Long Beach, said periodontal disease is the most common disease in small animals.
"Gingivitis, tartar and plaque are the most common diseases I see in my veterinary practice. The need for veterinary dentistry is tremendous, but people didn't see it before," Nalley said. "It is rarely taught in veterinary colleges, so the philosophy has been, if the tooth was loose, we'd pull it."
Nalley said kidney, cardiac and liver diseases all can stem from periodontal disease. Just like with humans, animals can be treated with root canals, fillings, braces, crowns and cleaning.
"We're seeing that dental care is very important to the patient, and it makes good business sense," Nalley said. "I've had people call me two or three weeks after we have removed the disease from the pet's mouth, and they'll tell me that their pet acts like a 2-year-old again."
Dentistry has been long overlooked in veterinary education, but that is changing at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Veterinary dentistry has been a small part of the training at MSU, but a new curriculum is taking shape to prepare students for this area of animal care.
Dr. Diana Eubanks, assistant clinical professor in CVM's Biomedical Research Center, is developing this curriculum.
"Veterinary dentistry is a growing field and a niche that a lot of students are going to want to explore," Eubanks said. "We're able to offer clients better options for the health of their pet. Many veterinary practices can significantly increase their income by offering quality dentistry."
Animals such as law enforcement or drug dogs represent a heavy financial investment, and losing their canine teeth would force them into retirement. Dental procedures can help keep them on the job.
MSU veterinary students currently spend two days of their junior year studying dentistry with Nalley, who comes to Starkville every six weeks to train a new group of students. In these two days, students have lecture, a wet lab and the opportunity to watch as Nalley treats dental patients referred to CVM. A two-week dentistry elective is offered once a year to seniors.
Nalley said veterinarians who are not taught dentistry in school should find ways to learn it on their own to enable them to better care for their patients.
"The public won't see the value of veterinary dentistry until the veterinary community understands it, believes in it and promotes it to their clients," Nalley said.
Eubanks is working to improve the educational opportunities MSU offers in this field. She spends most of her time in biomedical research, but is dedicating about 25 percent of her time to the development of a dental curriculum. Once developed, it will become part of the curriculum taught to all MSU veterinary students.
"We won't offer a specialty in veterinary dentistry, but we want to teach our students a lot of procedures that they can do in their own practices, and not have to refer as many patients elsewhere," Eubanks said.
While she is assembling the curriculum, Eubanks is also working on an alternate pathway residency of her own in veterinary dentistry. This four- to five-year process will culminate with her becoming a board certified veterinary dentist.
Contact: Dr. Diana Eubanks, (662) 325-1435