Pet Dental Health Month: I Hate Dentals

Posted: Feb 12, 2013
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There are very specific reasons why I am in the emergency field. I’ve been at DoveLewis since I graduated from tech school. Because of that, people think that this is the only job I’ve had in the veterinary world. It’s not true! I worked at a boarding kennel in high school. That’s not technically “in the field” but it was enough that I will NEVER work at a hospital that does boarding. Did it, didn’t like it, done with it.

I also worked at a general practice for 2 ½ years while I was in school. I functioned in a technician role, even though my only experience was what I was learning in school. I am forever grateful for the experience. I had some great mentors and it really helped get me through school. But that was enough to convince me that I belonged in emergency. Why, you ask?


I hate it. I hate all things dental. Hate is a strong word, and I’m okay with that in this situation. Tartar braces, green slime, breathing into a mask and fogging up goggles, even the accomplishment of turning a trench-mouth into a toothpaste commercial isn’t even CLOSE to reward enough. First of all, dental procedures happen in the morning. I am not a morning person. Way back when I had a shift that started at 4am (don’t ask) I spent the first two hours physically ill just from being awake that early. I can stay up for 30 hours and only be punchy. But make me wake up and come in at 4am and I’m miserable. And sensitive. Easily gagging from smells. Let me tell you… the smell of tartar, isoflurane and blood at 8am? Gag me with a dental mirror. By 10am I’m awake, I’m functional, I am speaking complete sentences and ready to dive in to cleaning up bloody diarrhea. But those 8am dentals were wretched.

You might ask, “Isn’t chipping and scaling all that calculus just so rewarding? Don’t you like the instant gratification of seeing white teeth again?” Not enough to endure the sound of a drill bit grinding though some giant molar, smelling the burning tooth, digging out roots with an elevator, and tensing my shoulders to reach way back there to suture a gaping hole. [Sidenote: This was a long time ago, and the state I was in didn’t care much about technician licensing then… I have no comment on the “extractions by technicians” debate at this time.] Add the awful fake mint polish smell to burning teeth and blood? Excuse me, I’m salivating in disgust.

I’m eternally grateful that my stint in the dental world was before fancy dental radiography. Bless you all who do it on every patient. I went to North Portland Veterinary Hospital to learn from the masters over there and, holy cow, that’s a lot to remember. CONFUSING.  Charting? Does it surprise you to learn that I still don’t know the dental formula for cats and dogs? That I will give you a blank stare when you tell me about a second premolar and/or carnassial root abscesses? Just recently on my trip to Alaska I helped the tech who was performing a dental cleaning with the charting. I wrote letters and numbers in boxes under pictures of teeth only partially understanding what was going on. I was proud of myself for recognizing the incisors.

One might also ask, “There MUST be times that you see dental emergencies right? They exist!” Of course they do. Quite a bit actually. But plating a jaw fracture, wiring a symphyseal fracture or creating a tape muzzle is LOADS more fun for me. And usually less smelly than chipping off calculus (except for the tape muzzles, those get pretty icky). Broken teeth get pain management and antibiotics and a quick referral to the dentist. I’m much more interested in dealing with the concurrent head trauma.

Those of you who are in the trenches (literal trenches, yes I’ve smelled those mouths) have nothing but my respect and admiration. I know and understand the importance of dental care. I love love LOVE to visit my dentist every 6 months and get my own teeth clean and shiny. I can only imagine the relief these animals feel when they can enjoy their food, toys, treats, and life again once they get their mouth cleaned up. And when that cat in ER bites me, I feel better knowing he had slightly less bacteria in there because his owner gets him regular dental care. I just can’t stomach it myself. You are heroes in my eyes. You will always know so much more about it than I do, and I am happy to keep it that way! I’m in so much trouble if I ever leave the world of emergency.

So clean on, dental lovers! Scrape and chip and scale and polish. Extol the virtues of daily brushing, chicken flavored toothpastes and appropriate teeth cleaning toys. Revel in the tartar chunks as big as your finger, the treasure trove hiding under the tarter braces, breathe in the before and after smells. I’ll be gagging in the corner.