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Veterinarian Technician April 2007 (Vol 28, No 4) Focus: Summer Issues

On the Cover: "A Talk with Jodi Kristel, CVT, VTS (Dentistry)

by Liz Donovan

    Jodi Kristel, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), is at the forefront of veterinary medicine's hottest topics, periodontal disease and oral health. In 1999, after earning her animal health technologist certificate from Olds College in Alberta, Canada, Jodi set her sights on a VTS (Dentistry) certification. She landed her dream job in 2002 as a veterinary dental technician at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since then, she has become a board member of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians, serving as a mentor for future applicants. This year, she collaborated with a dental hygienist to start an online business for continuing education in veterinary dentistry. Here, Jodi tells us about the importance she puts on education, her desire for excellence, and the challenges of performing oral surgery on a kangaroo.

    Learn more about Jodi's Vital Statistics and her Seven-Year Niche .

    How did you come to specialize in veterinary dentistry?

    I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. The interest in dentistry came later, while I was in school. Our curriculum had a great dental section, and I was immediately fascinated by the subject. After I graduated, I completed an internship at The Animal Medical Center in New York City, where I had the option to spend 12 weeks in a department of my choice. I chose dentistry, and Dr. Dan Carmichael really showed me the ins and outs of the specialty. The more I learned, the more I knew that I'd found my passion! When the internship ended, I took a job at the University of Pennsylvania in the ICU and wards. When a dental technician position opened 2 years later, I jumped at the chance.

    Why is dentistry so important to technicians?

    We are the team members that have the most communication with the client. Since periodontal disease is becoming a major concern, with over 80% of adult dogs and cats affected, it's really important that we are able to instruct our clients on the proper preventive measures. Some animals are in extreme pain when they come in for dental treatment, and the technician is almost always the person who is performing the procedures. It is important that they have the most up-to-date knowledge and the best training.

    Do you feel that specializing prepared you for that role?

    Until I specialized, I had no idea how little I really knew about dentistry! I had to start back at the basics and learn the anatomy of the mouth of each animal species. You don't get that kind of training with just hands-on experience. The program really raises your knowledge level and prepares you for everything that you're going to see. For example, in my job, I occasionally work on unfamiliar exotic animals, so learning how their mouths and jaws work helped me a lot. I also believe that the VTS program makes the profession better in general and that clients are better served when they know that the person cleaning their pet's teeth has specialized knowledge.

    What exotics have you worked on?

    Since we are close to the Philadelphia Zoo, we get difficult oral cases from them. Lumpy jaw is a common problem for marsupial breeds, so we have worked on kangaroos from the zoo with that condition. It's a complicated surgical procedure because the kangaroo's lips are so tight that we have to go through the cheek to get to the jaw. For these surgeries, I assist the surgeon and help set up the room. Unlike other dental work, this has to be a sterile procedure because of its invasive nature. We also have worked on a wallaby and an aardvark. From our patient population, we've performed dental work on chinchillas and rabbits. It's so neat to get that close to an exotic animal and see the differences in their teeth from other animals.

    You put a high value on education. tell us about the business you started this year.

    I created VetDent CE Associates with my coworker Bonnie Miller, RHD, BS, who is a staff registered dental hygienist. We often receive phone calls from practices that aren't sure how to handle particular cases. This made us realize that both veterinarians and technicians enter the workforce with limited dental education, even though oral health issues account for most visits to the veterinarian. We decided to create a company that would fill the void in the availability of dental seminars. Basing the business on the Web makes it convenient and economical for professionals to find seminars that satisfy their continuing education requirements, but we also present live seminars and provide consulting services. We're an approved provider in the American Association of State Veterinary Boards, Registry of Approved Continuing Education program. Further information can be found at our Web site, www.vetdentce.com.

    What is it like to work with someone who is trained in human medicine?

    Bonnie is my mentor and has taught me so much about dentistry. She has taken her human dental training and applied it to the veterinary world. She's been working with animals for 17 years and in that time has tremendously improved the level of care that animals receive. I've learned so much from her. I really respect and admire her contribution to my career and to veterinary medicine.

    What kind of topics does VetDent CE cover?

    Our courses include charting, scaling, polishing, and intraoral radiographic techniques. We also offer educational topics that include feline oral diseases, oral tumors, home care, equipment maintenance, and more. The dental topics are scientific and designed to elevate the quality of dental services offered in veterinary practices. Unfortunately, when it comes to dentistry, things are not always done as thoroughly as they should be. We are hoping that our seminars will help to improve the overall knowledge of technicians.

    Tell us about your responsibilities at the university.

    I perform dental prophylaxis, and I'm involved in research studies pertaining to dental and oral health. I'm also a chair-side assistant for more advanced dental procedures, such as endodontics and oral surgery. I complete preanesthetic diagnostics, which usually involves collecting blood work, conducting urinalysis, and sometimes taking chest radiographs, depending on the patient's history and medical status. I like that the diagnostic work allows me to maintain my nursing skills. Since I primarily do dental work, I don't get as much experience with the other aspects of nursing as I would if I worked in a private practice. On surgery days, I teach prophylaxis and radiograph techniques to 4th year veterinary students. I love this part of my job! It's very rewarding to teach someone a new skill that you know is going to be invaluable to them when they leave school and tackle the real world.

    Would you ever want to work in private practice?

    Up until now, I've only had experience in the large university setting and I really enjoy it. I get top-notch experience in dentistry here and I'm always learning. If I found the right practice that would allow me to continue with dentistry, I might consider it in the future, but I don't see myself leaving my current position anytime soon. A downside to the university setting is that I tend to see more of the depressing side of oral care — like animals with invasive, terminal oral tumors. Also, I know I'm not up to par with certain nursing skills because I don't get to use them as much as I'd like to. Unfortunately, when you concentrate in one area you can get very experienced in it, but you miss out in other areas. The private practice setting allows you to get a little of everything. For now, however, I prefer being the best that I can be at dentistry.

    What are your hopes for the veterinary technician profession?

    I am very pleased to see that more specialties are emerging. I think that the VTS designation is an important step in the right direction to further the profession. It forces veterinarians to recognize and support specialized technicians, and it educates the public about how much technicians contribute to the health care of their pet. Although I believe that veterinary assistants have a definite place in veterinary medicine, I hope that more states enforce laws about hiring certified technicians.

    Do you have any words of wisdom for fellow technicians?

    Throughout your career, continue to learn and find your niche! There are so many different career paths to take as a technician, and it is important to find what you love, whether it is dentistry, anesthesia, general practice, teaching, or research. Most importantly, work hard to learn everything you can about your passion.

    NEXT: Program Notes: NAVC 2007
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