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Transferring skills from human to veterinary dentistry
  1. Cecilia Gorrel

Abstract

Cecilia Gorrel qualified as a dentist in Sweden before moving to the UK to study veterinary medicine. Her plan was to work in small animal practice, but she has gone on to specialise in dental work

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I ALWAYS wanted to be a veterinary surgeon. As a young girl, growing up in the Middle East, I dreamt of becoming a modern-day James Herriot. When I graduated as a supposedly ‘mature’ student from Cambridge in 1989, I felt that the world was my oyster and that I was finally going to be able to do what I wanted with my life. I was already a human dentist, having qualified in my native Sweden, specialising and starting work in oral pathology, but I left that and the country of my birth to become a veterinarian. I saw the rest of my professional life being spent in small animal practice . . . maybe specialising, possibly in ophthalmology, in due course.

Two surprises were waiting for me within weeks of starting my first job in small animal practice. First, I was amazed at the amount of dentistry that was being performed in dogs and cats and, secondly, I was concerned at the lack of real understanding, training and experience of the vets who were performing it. I realised that maybe I hadn't left behind all my training as a human dentist after all.

I spent five absorbing and enjoyable years in general small animal practice learning the ropes and practising first-opinion dentistry to the best of my abilities. I joined the British Veterinary Dental Association and the European Veterinary Dental Society, first organising courses in the UK and later becoming president of both groups. In 1993, I felt the time was right to try to move to the next level and I became self-employed and set up a veterinary dental referral practice. This was the start of 20 magical years. The practice grew and evolved into research, consultancy and even product development, but, most importantly, I was able to realise the dreams I first had back in 1989 to improve the dental care we give companion animals.

In 1996, I became chair of the organising committee for the European Veterinary Dental College (EVDC); it was a wonderful moment when dentistry was approved as a specialist discipline by the European Board of Veterinary Specialisation (EBVS) in 1998. Two years as the inaugural president of the college followed. Establishing the EVDC introduced me to the world of veterinary politics, and this culminated in 2003 when I spent a year as president of the EBVS. However, I'm fundamentally a hands-on person and I find surgery and face-to-face teaching by far the most satisfying and stimulating part of my working life. Hence, my involvement in the running of the college is now minor, but it continues to give me enormous pleasure to train some of the new specialists and to see that, while still small, the EVDC is steadily growing in stature and membership.

My research, teaching, lecturing and consultancy commitments have allowed me to travel all over the world. Between 2001 and 2003, I spent three months each year as visiting professor and head of service in the veterinary school of the University of California, Davis. This was a fascinating opportunity to compare UK and US veterinary students and teaching methods. At the same time I spent several extended periods at a 3000-acre animal sanctuary funded by Hollywood movie people on the borders of Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is run by around 40 mainly British people who have been together since the 1960s. I established a veterinary clinic for the cats and dogs in the sanctuary, funded by corporate research into veterinary dental products. One of the members of the community who worked with me on the research project subsequently became a veterinarian and returned to run the clinic.

In the past few years, collaborating with a specialist veterinary dental company in Sweden, I have developed a range of appliances specially designed to make tooth extraction in cats and dogs easier and quicker, while producing fewer complications. I strongly believe it is vital to combine theory with practice, and for that reason I now do much of my teaching in the excellently equipped facilities of this company. We are, however, in a changing world, and this year I was in Shanghai teaching the first dental five-day course (organised by the European School for Advanced Veterinary Studies) to Chinese small animal practitioners. The course was fully booked and the delegates were thirsting for knowledge.

Oral diseases are common in small animal practice, many conditions cause discomfort, some cause intense pain and there is strong evidence that infection in the oral cavity may lead to systemic problems. While specialists certainly have a role to fill, it is my firm belief that real improvement in oral health care will be at general practitioner level. I have written articles, book chapters and books with the primary aim of giving small animal practitioners the information that they need to be able to practise good dentistry in general practice.

 Vet Record Careers aims to reflect the diverse range of career opportunities available to vets and related professionals. It includes features, tips, news and interviews on employment and educational issues, and on personal and professional development. Suggestions for articles are welcome, and should be sent to vetcareerseditorial{at}bva-edit.co.uk

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