A partnership solution to a pressing primary care need

Alastair Cribb Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, North Grafton, MA

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Ensuring that students graduate with the necessary primary care skills to succeed is a challenge. Curriculums are packed, and teaching hospitals often focus on patients with complicated problems.

Over the last 2 decades, dental health and dentistry have advanced significantly in veterinary practice. Yet, they remain a key component of primary care health programs. The most common problem—periodontal disease—appears in most dogs and cats by the age of 3 and is associated with other health problems such as kidney, liver, and heart muscle changes. Therefore, basic dentistry skills are essential for graduating students.

Despite our best efforts, our students and recent graduates commonly felt deficient in dentistry knowledge and skills. Recognizing our limited ability to expand access to dental cases in our hospitals, we sought another avenue to provide this important competency.

Participating in advanced continuing education events, Dr. Gregory Wolfus made connections in the dentistry community and recognized a learning model that could be applied to DVM education. Instead of having students learn 1 case at a time, the concept was to bring students and instructors together over 5 days to learn the basic dentistry competencies.

Dr. Wolfus; Kate Zukowski, CVT, VTS (dentistry); Dr. Bill Rosenblad, past president of the Tufts Veterinary Alumni Association; and Dr. Rich Levine developed the weeklong program and established its learning objectives. In spring 2019, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University held its first Dentistry Week.

The organizing team gathered a group of 15 regional veterinarians and taught 100 students veterinary dentistry. Students reviewed charting, scaling, and polishing teeth, then conducted oral examinations on pet volunteers. Students practiced taking dental radiographs, performed nerve blocks, and extracted teeth from donated cadavers. They also learned how to communicate with clients about dental health.

Prior to the start of Dentistry Week, our DVM students received just a few hours of dental instruction. And our graduates were challenged to fulfill the emerging need to perform dental extractions, due to a lack of training and experience. That has now changed.


Student holding extracted canine tooth during Dentistry Week.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 261, 7; 10.2460/javma.23.05.0250

Carly Nangle, V22, shared, “I used the skills I learned Dentistry Week to jump into dental procedures when I started working. I am proud that Cummings School is providing future veterinarians with this valuable training and knowledge.”

Dentistry Week was created so our graduates would be better equipped to respond to the needs of their primary care patients. Its success hinges on a partnership with colleagues from private practice who make it possible. This approach allows us to gather enough clinicians to provide personalized, hands-on education to 100 students over the course of 5 days. Now firmly established in our curriculum, Dentistry Week is offered in our newly opened Joseph Kelley, DVM Simulation Laboratory, enhancing an already exceptional experience.

We are pleased to bring this partnership solution to a pressing primary care need.