"Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to work with animals," says Jeanne Vitoux, a veterinary dental technician at the UI Small Animal Clinic. Vitoux not only works with animals, she also mentors and tutors students in the veterinary technician program at Parkland College, where she earned her associate in applied science degree in veterinary technology in 1991. As president of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians, Vitoux helped develop a certification program in the dentistry specialty. Vitoux, who joined the university in January 2002, also earned a bachelor’s degree in German from Drew University.
Tell me about your department and your job.
The veterinary dental and oral surgery service is one of five full-service dental labs and teaching research programs in the country with a board-certified dentist on staff and a dental resident. Veterinarians will refer cases here because we have the equipment to do procedures they are unable to do.
The service is housed within the surgery department because we have to put the animals under anesthesia for routine dental cleanings, endodontics (root canals, crowns), and surgical treatment of oral lesions and cancerous lesions.
I manage the lab, which entails ordering supplies and equipment and repairing the equipment. I help set up the teaching labs and teach the students dental radiography and dental instrumentation.
Tell me about the vet tech dentistry program you are helping develop.
It’s a board certification program through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America called the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians.
It is a two-year program modeled after the veterinary dental residency program. Candidates will have to gather case logs, write case reports, take a set of full-mouth radiographs, attain continuing education credits in certain subjects and take a three-part exam, which will include demonstrating proficiency at certain dental procedures. We hope to make the program available this summer.
What do you find most rewarding or enjoyable about what you do?
I enjoy working with my patients and interacting with clients. You’re not only treating the animal, you’re also making decisions with the client and being a resource for them. I enjoy teaching skills to students and veterinarians and watching them grow. I’m a big believer in lifelong learning because it helps alleviate burnout. Like other medical professions, this is a field where burnout is high. I could probably do this 24 hours a day, but I’m also married with two tabby cats and trying to maintain a house.
Why is burnout so high and how do you combat it yourself?
It’s a physically demanding job. You’re picking up animals, restraining them and helping with surgical procedures. Three years ago I ruptured a disk in my back catching a Labrador retriever that leapt off the table after it came out of anesthesia, so I’ve become very conscious of the physical nature of this job and how easy it is to get injured.
I do aerobic exercise and resistance training three times a week, and that’s helped immensely with my energy level and with stress relief.
I also garden, and I like to cook Italian and Mediterranean-style dishes.
I also stay involved professionally and am secretary and state representative in the Veterinary Technician Association of Illinois. I constantly try to increase my knowledge by reading journals and attending continuing education courses.
How important is dental care for pets?
A large percentage of dogs and cats have some form of periodontal disease from plaque and tartar buildup. Untreated, it can cause systemic problems, especially in the lungs, heart and kidneys, and cause the teeth to fall out. Animals don’t show pain like people do, so the pet may have a chronic festering situation for years and then suddenly get sick.
Owners can combat these problems by applying rinses or pastes to their pets’ mouths, brushing their teeth and offering food, toys and treats that reduce tartar and plaque. (These activities) decrease the amount of time the animal has to spend under anesthesia getting their teeth cleaned or repaired.