Alumni Services

A canine collaboration

Veterinary students are learning vital dentistry skills in an innovative ‘hands-on’ project at the Edinburgh Dental institute.

Edinburgh Dental institute
Photograph by Mike Wilkinson.

As usual, the ‘phantom head’ lab of the Edinburgh Dental Institute is full of young students, decked out in pristine white lab coats and protective glasses, studiously removing the red paint from the teeth of rows of grinning dental mannequins.

The only thing different on this particular day in late April, compared to others, is that these are not dental students - they are young vets from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. They are here to learn ‘human’ dental prophylaxis techniques that they will be able to use on the animals they will care for in the future as qualified veterinarians.

Transferable skills

While the morphology of animal teeth is different from humans, the diseases that affect the teeth and gums of both species are very similar and, therefore, many of the basic techniques in dealing with them are transferable from dental practitioners to veterinary surgeons.  

Dental and gum disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats presenting to vets. It is estimated that up to 80 per cent of dogs and 70 per cent of cats over three years old are affected to some extent and that without treatment, this will result in painful conditions and, ultimately, loss of teeth.

Andrew Gardiner, alumnus and senior vet lecturer at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, decided it was important that his students got more experience of dealing with these conditions.

I believe that dentistry could be taught more in veterinary schools today, as I know of no school that has a full-time vet dental specialist on their staff. It is often taught by visiting specialist veterinary dentists, but there is a strong argument for providing more practical training.

Andrew GardinerSenior Lecturer, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Pilot project

Edinburgh Dental institute
Photograph by Mike Wilkinson.

A fortuitous meeting between Professor Susan Rhind, Deputy Head of School, Teaching, and the Edinburgh Dental Institute’s Director Professor Angus Walls brought up the idea of collaborating on dental techniques and this led to a pilot project in May 2014.

The Institute provided a two-day course for 23 fourth-year vet students (the veterinary degree is a five-year course), which included theory lectures and practical work in its state-of-the-art dental teaching lab. Following the success of the pilot, another session of teaching was instigated in May 2015 and again this year for third-year students.

Joanne Healy, who gained her MSc in Clinical Education from Edinburgh and is now a Lecturer in Oral Health Sciences at the Dental Institute, provided the theory lesson at the Vet School in February. Then, during the week that the Institute’s dental hygiene and therapy students were on study leave, 151 vet students attended the lab over four afternoons. All the Oral Health Sciences team including Zoe Coyle, Liz Conner, Eilish Duffy, Andreana Austin and Joanne were involved in this teaching.

By contrast, undergraduate hygiene and therapy students on the BSc (Hons) Oral Health Sciences degree would have to undertake approximately 110 hours of tutor led simulated teaching in the lab before they would be allowed to work on a human patient.

Of course, this is a short intensive course for them, but the students get valuable practical experience to understand the techniques using the different instruments that they can’t get from just reading about the theory.

Joanne HealyLecturer in Oral Health Sciences. Edinburgh Dental Institute

Alumni collaboration

Joanne and Andrew have now recorded a lecture for the students to listen to prior to their visit to the Dental Institute and the practical workshops have been extended and run over 4 full days.

It’s really good to get to use a selection of the ultrasonic tools that I’ve not used before. This is good experience that will help me become more competent in dental health, and I’m hoping I will be able to practise these techniques in my next placement in the summer.

Chiew NgStudent

It takes a while to get used to holding the instruments and what pressure to use, but you pick it up quite quickly. I think the big benefit is the experience of working in three dimensions and getting used to the idea of the space you have to work in within the mouth.

Hannah MasonStudent


The BSc (Hons) Oral Health Sciences programme at the Edinburgh Dental institute commenced in 2009 and is the only four year honours degree in the UK.

Edited by: Joanne Healy, (Lecturer in BSc Oral Health Sciences) and Margaret Ross, Senior Lecturer for Dental Care Professionals and Programme Director BSc (Hons) Oral Health Sciences.

Original Author:  Tim Power

Photographs: Mike Wilkinson

The original article featured in the May 2016 edition of Scottish Dental Magazine - Taking the lead with canine teeth

Related links

The Edinburgh Dental Institute

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies