This Veterinary Technician Is Obsessed with Teeth
Kate Zukowski, a certified veterinary technician at Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic, has a passion for your pet’s pearly whites.
Veterinary technicians are the nurses of veterinary care, and many go through rigorous specialty training to better serve clients. Zukowski recently became certified for dentistry—a professional calling that began many years ago.
Before arriving at Tufts five years ago, Zukowski spent fifteen years at a busy, multi-doctor veterinary practice in Shrewsbury, where she had the opportunity to work in pretty much every department. “I was very interested in anesthesia and surgery, and then dentistry,” she said. “I kind of just ran with the dentistry part.” (Read “Five Ways to Keep Your Pet's Teeth Healthy” with advice from Zukowski.)
Noticing a need for higher-quality dental care, she spent hundreds of hours training—poring over complex cases and attending conferences—to become a veterinary technician specialist in dentistry.
“Having Kate here as a technician with the high specialty interest in dentistry makes the entire dental service here at Tufts at Tech better and easier on the doctors,” says veterinarian Gregory Wolfus, V98, who oversees the clinic, which is based at Worcester Technical High School and run by Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Once we figured out the gift that Kate brought with her, it very quickly pigeonholed her in a position that 80 percent of her time is doing dental work. She’s the first and only boarded dental technician in New England at this point.”
So far, Zukowski has assisted on some interesting cases, including a root canal for a police dog and oral surgery on a red fox. The nearby Southwick Zoo once called on her and Wolfus to do dental work on a ring-tailed lemur and a patas monkey—and did you know dogs can wear braces?
However, most clients at Tufts at Tech have more common issues, such as periodontal disease and fractured teeth, as well as tooth resorption in cats. More than 80 percent of dog and cats over age three will be affected by periodontal disease, she said.
“At Tufts at Tech, we see a lot of periodontal disease that’s been neglected for a decade,” Zukowski said. “We see a lot of dogs and cats with horribly infected painful mouths and at the end, we've removed all of that and they are happy and pain-free. Every single one of those cases is important to me because we've made such a huge impact on the quality of life for those patients.”
Tufts at Tech, which serves low-income pet owners, currently averages about 500 clients a month, with 15 to 20 dental procedures a month. For now, she’s focused on the critical work of educating veterinary students at Cummings School to follow in her pioneering footsteps.
She and Wolfus collaborated on a week-long intensive dental training course in February for 100 veterinary students at Cummings. They taught students how to take dental x-rays, perform extractions, treat disease—all procedures that the students may perform during their primary-care rotation at Tufts at Tech. The “Dental Week” course was the first of its kind at Cummings School, and such a success that they’re already planning another session.
“If you have individuals who are willing to pour their heart and soul in bettering themselves so that they can information share and help, teach, and support others, aren't those the most important commodity of people?” Wolfus said. “Kate is not just information-sharing, she's a critical part of the veterinarian-teaching university.”
Angela Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.