Kendall Taney among fewer than 20 recognized as American Veterinary Dental College Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Fellows
June 20, 2023
Adult humans can let everyone within earshot know how miserable they are when they get a toothache, but how must it be for an animal that cannot let anyone know?
“I can't tell you the number of people that, after we've removed a bunch of diseased teeth from their pet, they tell me ‘I can't believe that my 16-year-old dog is playing with toys he hasn't played with in years,” said Kendall Taney ’97, DVM ’02 a board-certified veterinary dentist. “It’s the kind of disease in which pets suffer in silence, because most of the time, they're still eating and drinking and going about their day, because they can't tell you that, ‘Hey, this hurts.’ “
Taney, owner of the Center for Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is now one of the most highly recognized experts in how to help those silently suffering animals.
In 2022, Taney finished a rigorous two-year training program and examination to become an American Veterinary Dental College Fellow in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Fewer than 20 veterinarians worldwide carry that distinction.
At times, Taney wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew in seeking the fellowship.
“When I went through my residency, I didn't have children,” Taney said, referring to her initial dentistry and oral surgery residency at the same clinic. “And I didn't have a lot of responsibilities that I have now, like running a business. So it was a huge sacrifice. And there were a lot of times, I questioned why I was doing it. But I think, like a lot of us, I am a lifelong learner, and I'm always wanting to be the best at what I do. And when this opportunity came up for something that I was already passionate about, maxillofacial surgery and reconstruction, I really was just interested in achieving that goal, where I knew it would help me be a better surgeon and be a better veterinary dentist.”
The American Veterinary Dentistry College had 14 founding fellows in oral and maxillofacial surgery, including Mark Smith, a retired former partner of Taney at the Maryland clinic and Taney’s mentor. Smith, a professor of surgery and dentistry at VMCVM from 1988 to 2004, was impressed by Taney as a student and offered her a residency in 2005 even before she was sure she wanted to enter veterinary dentistry.
“Kendall had completed general and surgery internships following graduation,” recalled Smith, who now operates a consultants’ practice in veterinary dentistry and oral surgery from South Carolina. “She aspired to be a board-certified surgeon for which I had written recommendations for her based on my interactions with her when she was a student. By chance, I met her in a hallway during a veterinary surgery meeting where she was interviewing for surgery residency programs. I let her know that if she ever changed her career goal, I could offer her a residency position in dentistry and oral surgery.
“Fortunately, she changed her mind and the rest is history.”
Taney was in the first group of four fellowship candidates to go through the qualification program and the first to complete all requirements for Fellow status. That program included keeping a case log with requirements to perform certain complex surgeries, a research publication requirement and supervision by an existing Fellow.
“In my opinion, individuals in veterinary specialties that involve surgery must be decisive and confident. Kendall has these ‘unteachable’ qualities along with excellent technical skills and a compassionate nature regarding her patients."
Taney obtaining Fellow status was not a surprise to her longtime mentor.
“In my opinion, individuals in veterinary specialties that involve surgery must be decisive and confident,” Smith said. “Kendall has these ‘unteachable’ qualities along with excellent technical skills and a compassionate nature regarding her patients. These attributes make her an exceptional veterinary dentist and oral surgeon.”
Taney was already a regularly invited speaker on veterinary dentistry and surgery at national conferences. As part of the fellowship, she made public presentations before the Joint Pathology Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, which serves the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies.
“I was able to spend time with their group, looking specifically at oral and maxillofacial pathology in humans and animals,” Taney said. “I did some presentations with their group with their residents about some interesting cases of oral pathology that we've had here. It was fun to compare human and animal oral pathology and to learn from each other in that regard.”
Taney said much of the emphasis of doing presentations in the fellowship was focused on becoming a subject matter expert in advanced maxillofacial surgery and also displaying the ability to collaborate with other specialties.
“For a lot of these cases, it may be an oral tumor,” Taney said. “So, we would want to involve oncology. The point of the presentations is to be able to present a case to multiple specialties to facilitate those specialties working together to really get the best outcome for a patient.”
Being able to communicate with clients is also important.
“It certainly isn't something you come out of veterinary school with,” Taney said. “A lot of us go in because we love animals, and we forget about the humans that come with them. In a lot of these cases, owners are coming with patients that have something that's pretty serious, and they're very emotional. You have to be able to explain the condition that their pet has, and how you're going to help their pet. We also have to communicate what risks are involved. We’re not trying to terrify people, but we want everyone to be able to make the best-informed decisions for their pets.”
Some of those discussions with clients are difficult, and bump up against the limits of what veterinary medicine and even an expert oral surgeon can do to help a patient.
“I always tell people that we can do amazing things, which can be cutting-edge procedures, but sometimes there are points where we shouldn't do those procedures,” Taney said. “Sometimes we have to say, well, the best course of action is not to treat, if it's something that we don't expect there's going to be an outcome at the end where we're going to have a patient that has a good quality of life.”
“The pandemic was extremely challenging for the veterinary world, the demand was just through the roof, and people got really tired. I think it’s a matter of getting people back into having a good quality of life, number one, but also enjoying their jobs and wanting to be in this field.”
Quality of life is not just a concern for ailing animals, but also for the professionals who treat them. Taney shares many colleagues’ concerns that some prospective veterinarians are being deterred from entering the field or choose to leave it because of burnout.
“There’s just not enough dentists and specialists, and there's not enough veterinary staff to support them,” Taney said. “It’s not unique to our specialty, it's really across the board. The pandemic was extremely challenging for the veterinary world, the demand was just through the roof, and people got really tired. I think it’s a matter of getting people back into having a good quality of life, number one, but also enjoying their jobs and wanting to be in this field.”
Taney said she understands and empathizes with the struggles many colleagues face.
“There are a lot of challenges that everyone's facing in terms of debt coming out of school,” Taney said. “I think the stress is high. I think we are all empathetic people and type A personalities. We want everything to be perfect all the time, and we don't want there to ever be a complication. And if there is, then we're like, what did we do wrong? And we beat ourselves up about it. That's tough.”
But Taney has found a place that is fulfilling for her in the field.
“I like surgery a lot,” Taney said. “I just like suturing. It’s going to sound weird, but I just like the way the tissue in the mouth handles and I like teeth. I like reconstructing parts of the face. That's what really gets me going. You can fix things usually with one surgery. It’s very mechanical.”
“Fractures are one of my favorites. It’s like taking a puzzle and trying to figure out how we're going to have it to come together.”