Dr Christine Hawke: Making a difference in animal dentistry

The desire by vets to improve their patients’ health and reduce pain is universal.

Have you ever considered how recognising and treating dental disease in our pets can dramatically improve their quality of life? This realisation was the catalyst that sparked Dr Christine Hawke’s interest in dentistry.

In a recent interview, Christine gave me a candid account of her beginnings in veterinary dentistry – an area that was not always her favourite part of veterinary practice!

“I was always petrified of surgery and hated dentistry as I didn’t understand it; I used to have many tactics for avoiding doing dentals (even house-calls were preferable and that is saying something!). I was a budding internal medicine vet, had just completed my PhD in immunogenetics, of all things, and starting a clinical teaching position at the University of Sydney when I had to choose between running either the spey or dental clinic. Having sworn I’d never do another spey in my life, I had to learn dentistry on the fly. I was shocked to realise how much oral disease our small animals suffer with, how they do not express their pain, and the sheer extent of dental disease as a welfare issue in our pets. The difference we can make to our patients’ health and comfort with good dental care is astounding.”

I asked Christine what parts of veterinary dentistry she finds interesting and what she believes general practitioners would benefit from learning about and performing better?

“I am really interested in developmental issues in puppies (and just generally interested in puppies of course!!) – they are far more common than most of us realise. The malocclusions are the most obvious ones – we see a lot of linguoverted or ‘base narrow’ canines, overshot or undershot jaws and the like, especially as we have bred dogs to have ‘designer’ head shapes with less attention paid to their functionality. GPs can pick these up with a really good physical examination. If GPs know when treatment is required or not, and the treatment options available, they can not only limit the amount of pain and trauma but decrease the long-term issues these dogs have by offering early intervention.

The other big, underrated thing GPs can start doing is counting the teeth in dogs at six months (it’s easy when they are under anaesthesia for desexing). Unerupted teeth seem to be becoming more common, especially with the rise in brachycephalic breeds, and about a third of these will give rise to a destructive dentigerous cyst during the dog’s life. A simple dental xray can rule out whether there is an unerupted tooth, and early removal of the tooth can literally save the jaw from an inoperable pathological fracture down the track.”

 

 

With respect to dental extractions, Christine learnt from experience rather than just reading a textbook and has the following advice:

“ I have learned that extractions are not as difficult as they seem if you plan them well (just like any surgery) – my tip is to use anatomy and physics (the easy physics, like straight lines, clear pathways and which way to use the force for good rather than evil, not the hard stuff like quantum entanglement) to make your job easy. Knowing how and why things go wrong (and it is usually the same mistakes we see, over and over again) is the best way to avoid dental disasters.”

For new graduates who want to improve their knowledge and skills in veterinary dentistry, Christine has the following advice:

“Take your time and plan your extractions. Don’t rush and don’t lose your patience. Stick to the basic principles and, as you get more experience, you will get faster. You also don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Use the experience of those around you to pick up tips and improve your skills. If you don’t have mentors around you to help, look for postgraduate training, especially those with good hands-on workshops to hone your skills.”

What does Christine do on her days off?

“I have kids, need I say more? I am a skilled ‘muber’ driver (‘mum’s uber’). But when I get my own spare time, I do like to write fiction and I love to read, especially books that are on actual paper rather than a screen.”

 

 

Want to learn more from Christine, and share her passion for veterinary dentistry?

Join us at Practical Skills Bootcamp with a nuts and bolts curriculum specifically designed for experienced vets, new grads, or those returning to work. We’ll get you fit for the job with topics in abdominal surgery, dentistry and animal behaviour. Along with wet-labs, we have communication and meditation topics in this 3-day workshop jam packed full of theory and practical sessions you can implement immediately in your clinic.

 

Christine can be contacted on 1300 838 336 and www.sydneypetdentistry.com.au