Do you hate dentistry? Do you hide when a dental comes through the front door at your clinic? Read on to learn how you can transform yourself into a vet with a passion for dentistry!

Many children have dreams of becoming a vet when they grow up; not many of them have the same childhood view of veterinary science once they are qualified vets! Except for Dr Christine Hawke- a love of animals (of course), a love of mysteries, and a love of helping animals seemed to make veterinary science the perfect career choice for Christine. She still holds the same simplistic childhood view of veterinary science and loves that she can instantly help her patients feel better using her veterinary dental skills. She never intended to become a dental vet (she is not a specialist but has limited her practice to this for over a decade now) – she originally wanted to be a feline medicine specialist but got sidetracked along the way and fell into dentistry. Christine is a great teacher, and her fun approachable attitude makes learning new veterinary dental skills seem like child’s play.

VetPrac looks forward to sharing some of Dr Christine Hawke’s problem-solving prowess at the Practical Skills Bootcamp Workshop on November 8-10, 2018.

I recently interviewed Christine to find out a little more about her life outside of veterinary dental practice, as well as get a few tips on getting started in dentistry.

What would you have done if you hadn’t become a veterinarian?

I never seriously considered anything else, but loved creative writing as a child, and always figured I’d write books on the side. I recently started writing fiction again so who knows?

Cats or dogs – which are your favourite to treat?

That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favourite!!! I love treating any animal that isn’t trying to bite me at the time.

What’s your advice for vets who don’t feel confident assessing the dental health status of dogs and cats and aren’t comfortable performing basic dental procedures? What’s the best way of improving their veterinary dental skill set?

If you don’t feel confident in your dental skills, that’s okay – I was the same! When I went through uni, we really didn’t get any training in dentistry. For the first half of my career, I hated dentistry with a passion, simply because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was also not a natural surgeon, so there’s hope for everyone.

Given dental and periodontal issues are the most common welfare problem we face in small animal practice, if you work with cats and dogs you are not going to be able to escape dentistry (I used to try and avoid it, by literally hiding when dentals were booked in!). The best thing you can do for both yourself and your patients is to embrace dentistry, take the plunge, and learn about it. The basic skills can be learnt relatively quickly, and you have so many opportunities to practice (like every single day of your life, the cases never dry up!!). There is no substitute for hands-on learning, so if you can get to a wet lab, get the basics, practice every day, and then, you never know – you might end up addicted like me.

Do you have any tips for convincing pet owners of the importance of regular dental checkups and home care routines?

I think the message is getting out there more over the past decade or so – more owners seem open to the idea of caring for their pets’ teeth.

I often remind them that we brush and floss every day, and still need to see our dentists every year or so (or even more frequently if you are dentally-obsessed like me and read dental text books and know what can go wrong!). Pets are living longer now than ever before, so, although in the wild they only needed to keep their teeth for a handful of years, if we want them to have healthy teeth into their teens we need to actively care for them, as we do our own.

Once a pet has had oral disease, getting owners to maintain a healthy mouth after treatment is generally easier, as they want to avoid further extractions. It’s not just about the money, or the end result (loss of teeth), but the slow process of infection and inflammation over months and years that leads to the damage. They have infection and discomfort every hour of every day of every week for months, or years. Once owners realise this, they become motivated to avoid this by becoming more actively involved in their pets’ oral care.

Are you currently working on any research projects?

I’m helping on a project looking at caliciviral infection in cats with gingivostomatitis. My role is just sample collection; there are much smarter people doing the rest. Excited to see what comes out of it, as this disease is so debilitating for our feline patients.

How do you spend your days off?

Hanging out with my family and friends. Reading really good fiction. Writing when I get the chance. Planning our next travel adventure. Throwing the ball to my ball-obsessed dog (really, it takes up a lot of the day!).

To learn more about dentistry from Christine in a fun and relaxed atmosphere, register for the VetPrac Practical Skills Bootcamp Workshop. For more information, check out the brochure here.

Contact information: Dr Christine Hawke, Sydney Pet Dentistry
Email address: [email protected]
Phone:  1300 838 336 or 0408 782 611


Written by Alison Caiafa