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Veterinarian Technician February 2008 (Vol 29, No 2)

On the Cover: Scaling New Heights in Dentistry — A Talk with Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry)

    For most people, dentistry is probably not what comes to mind when they hear the words "instant gratification." But for Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), the dramatic improvement in her patients' quality of life after a dental procedure provides her with that sense of reward. As the inpatient supervisor and dentistry coordinator at Rau Animal Hospital in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Vickie works one-on-one with clients to provide their pets with the highest possible level of periodontal care.

    By serving as the president-elect and exam chairperson of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT), Vickie strives to improve the quality of veterinary dentistry across the nation. She has lectured on dentistry at various conferences, including the Veterinary Technician® 2007 CE Seminar, where she inspires technicians to gain the confidence to reach for their dreams. "I think that technicians have a wealth of potential that has hardly been tapped," Vickie says. Here, she tells us about disturbing dentistry statistics, the benefits of intraoral radiology, and the importance of believing in yourself.

    How did you get to this point in your career?

    I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with animals, but my only experience with veterinary medicine was taking my own pets to the veterinarian. While researching veterinary careers, I learned about the veterinary technician profession. It seemed like a perfect fit, so I enrolled in Harcum College's veterinary technology program. I graduated in 1981 and began working at a very small practice owned by a lovely married couple who were both veterinarians. At that clinic, I did only basic tasks — I restrained animals, cleaned kennels, mailed reminders, and answered phones, and I performed only limited lab work and emergency care. I thought that what I was doing was the extent of what was expected from a technician.

    In 1985, a series of events changed my life. I injured my back in a serious car accident and was temporarily unable to function at the clinic where I was working. When I was able to work again, I was offered a position at Rau Animal Hospital. As it turned out, these circumstances were the best thing that could have happened to me. I felt completely in over my head when I first started at Rau because the veterinarians there expected more from me than the other clinic ever had. I really had to learn to stretch my comfort zone and grow, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I realized that veterinary medicine holds a lot of challenges for technicians. While working at my previous job, I was very limited in what I could do. The veterinarians at Rau really fostered my interests and encouraged me to grow professionally. I am so fortunate to have been trained in this environment. I now have the confidence to recognize new opportunities when they pre­sent themselves. It's been a very exciting career so far, and I give my employer a lot of credit for helping me get to this point.

    How did you come to work in veterinary dentistry?

    I was first exposed to veterinary dentistry when I started working at Rau. I loved the immediate gratification of performing a dental procedure. The animals came in with mouths that were in bad shape, and when we were done with the procedure, their oral health was significantly better. I knew that there was a great need for dentistry in veterinary hospitals, and I wanted to learn more. In the early 1990s, the practice owner and I started attending dental wet labs and talking with board-certified veterinary dentists. In addition, I spent a week volunteering my services to Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP, during which time I was able to ask him questions and absorb as much information as I could. It was such an empowering experience for me. The more I learned, the more I knew that I wanted to work in a position that focused solely on dentistry.

    You were part of the organizing committee that formed the AVDT. Can you tell us about that experience?

    In 2000, the diplomates of the American Veterinary Dental College decided that there was a need for technicians to become specialized in dentistry. Dr. Bellows suggested I meet with like-minded technicians to investigate the formation of a dental technician specialty. I saw his encouragement as a great compliment, so I joined a group of other technicians from all over the country at the first AVDT meeting in Las Vegas. As a result of that meeting, we began a 4-year process of conducting research, forming committees, learning NAVTA requirements, and writing the petition to the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties to gain acceptance as an academy. It was arduous work, but I got to know some incredible technicians in the process, and I have had many opportunities become available to me since that time.

    I was selected as president-elect in 2001. I now concentrate on supporting the president and organizing committees within the academy. I will be named president at the Veterinary Dental Forum later this year. I also serve as the exam chairperson, so I spend a lot of time working on exam preparation each year. This includes setting up the venue, communicating with the candidates so that they know what to expect, making hotel arrangements, and administering and grading the exam.

    How has your involvement with the AVDT helped your career and the profession?

    Being involved with the AVDT has given me the opportunity to meet and network with some of the most incredible technicians and veterinarians in the world. It has also given my career diversity that I never would have imagined. If you asked me in 2000 whether I would ever author articles or speak to large groups, I wouldn't have thought it possible. I have grown so much as a person and as a technician because of my involvement.

    Through the AVDT, I have had the opportunity to help other dedicated technicians set and achieve their career goals. Eventually, specialized technicians will be as valuable to the veterinary profession as nurse practitioners are to the human medical field. By obtaining their specialty status, veterinary technicians will be able to maintain their careers financially, which will lead to increased longevity in the field and increasing improvements in veterinary medicine.

    Now, I'm encouraging new technicians to join our academy. We currently have a board of technicians who have put a lot of effort into getting the AVDT started, but the same individuals can't spend the next 20 years continuing to keep the academy going. We need new members who share our excitement so that they can teach the next crop of technicians. We don't want this dream to be limited to a couple of years and then fizzle out. We need new technicians to say, "Thank you for teaching me. Now it's my turn to show the next person." That's going to make all of our current efforts worthwhile because that's where we have the opportunity to have growth in the profession.

    What do you enjoy most about lecturing?

    I love being able to travel all over the country and educate technicians about veterinary dentistry, especially those who have not yet been exposed to it. I like to see the reactions on technicians' faces when I cite statistics about the number of animals that have periodontal disease. I want to motivate technicians to take that information back to their practice and communicate it to their employers and clients. Periodontal disease can be extremely debilitating, and 80% of the animals coming into veterinary practices are affected. It's a horrible statistic, but it's the truth. I believe that if I can help technicians learn and understand that statistic, I can play a part in improving the standard of care globally. If technicians have the knowledge and if they care about the animals, which I know they do, taking the time to educate the client is an easy leap. Our clients don't come into the clinic already educated about veterinary dentistry. That's our role as technicians — to give them what they need to make an informed decision about their pet's care.

    How do you educate clients on how to improve their pet's oral health?

    Client education is an enormous part of my job. My biggest role is to work with clients to determine which treatments they will approve and what level of at-home care they can provide. When a client brings in a pet for a dental procedure, I evaluate the oral cavity, clean and chart the mouth, take intraoral radiographs, perform regional nerve blocks when needed, and support the veterinarian. He or she reviews the findings and recommends therapy. I then call the client. Based on patient temperament, the pathology that was found, and family commitment and economics, we formulate an individualized plan for success.

    When the pet is discharged after the treatment, I schedule a recheck appointment with the client for 7 to 10 days later. The rechecks are one of the most exciting parts of my job. I am able to hear so many wonderful stories about how these pets are acting like puppies or kittens again because they are no longer in pain from periodontal disease. I take this opportunity to start talking with the owner about how the health of the pet's mouth can be maintained. I love seeing clients finally understand how important proper dental care is now that they have the knowledge and tools to provide exceptional at-home care for their pets. I tailor all my recommendations for at-home care to each client based on his or her individual abilities. If clients are willing and toothbrushing is a possibility, I show them a video of me brushing my cat's teeth. I teach clients how to make toothbrushing a daily routine. If toothbrushing is not a possibility, I may recommend a special diet, discuss various oral care products, or recommend frequent professional evaluation and treatments.

    What advancements have been made in veterinary dentistry?

    The new Porphyromonas bacterin dental vaccine is one exciting advancement. The vaccine targets three anaerobic bacteria that are responsible for causing periodontal disease and bone loss. Its use is not yet widespread — it is currently being used in dogs that have a high risk of developing periodontal disease.

    Also, more and more veterinary professionals are now able to use intraoral radiology to see pathology beneath the surface. Statistics reveal that 60% of pathology in the mouth is located under the gums. At our clinic, we've seen an amazing growth potential by using this technology. Like many other practices, when we first got the intraoral radiology machine, we were hesitant to use it and did so only when necessary. We started to see that when we did use it, we found pathology in adjacent teeth that we didn't know needed to be treated. All of a sudden, we were seeing firsthand all of the statistics that we had read. Now, we conduct radiology on every dental patient. This has not only helped us increase the standard of care but has also increased our clinic's profits. The increased revenue has allowed us to staff the operating room with more employees and purchase more advanced equipment. I think it's exciting to be able to see veterinary professionals using the proper equipment and recognizing unexpected pathology so that their efforts can be directed toward care.

    What advice do you have for new technicians starting out in the profession?

    Technicians need to know that they're in control of their own careers. The extent of their career comes from the amount of effort that they're willing to put into it.

    My advice for technicians is: Don't limit yourself, and don't be lazy about your career. Get as much education as you can — whether from CE seminars or from less conventional educational experiences, such as volunteering. If you want to achieve your goals and you're not in a workplace that fosters career advancement, then you're not in the right place. If you dream about accomplishing something, you should do whatever it takes to realize your dream.

    Also, never turn down opportunities. You're not going to know if you're going to be good at something or if you're going to like it until you try it. When I started working with the AVDT, I never thought about the fact that I'd be asked to speak in front of a room filled with technicians. I panicked when I found out that I'd be expected to do so. The first time I spoke, I realized how much fun it was to share my passion with others. I soon learned that it's important to try something before you say that you can't do it.

    What hopes do you have for the profession?

    My hope is that technicians will be fully utilized and empowered to grow and learn to their fullest potential. Everyone who goes into veterinary technology does it because they love animals. I want technicians to take that and run with it — the more they learn about the profession, the more opportunities they will have to improve their patients' quality of life. A friend's mother once said to me, "If you ever have an opportunity to do something or go someplace — within reason — you should do it. You never know who you're going to meet or what the experience is going to hold for you. Chances are that you're going to learn something from it." I took that advice to heart and went from a naive technician who didn't know what her potential was to someone who gets to speak to technicians from all over the country and interact with board-certified veterinarians. I think it's because I did exactly what my friend's mother suggested. Even if I was a little nervous or scared, I said, "Let's see what this experience could bring for me." That's what I would really like for technicians — for them to have a little courage in themselves. If I had a dream, it would be that everyone would have the confidence to try something new.

    NEXT: Options for Treating a Fractured Tooth
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