Dental Professionals Available

There is, of late, much discussion amongst horse owners and the horse industry in general about the practice of equine veterinary dentistry by unlicensed lay individuals. Some feel that laws should not restrict the horse owner in their choice of service providers. Some have even stated that most equine veterinarians know little if anything about dentistry and that the lay "dentist" is best qualified to provide this medical service. There is no such qualification as an "equine dentist." "Dentist" is the shorthand term for a person with the degree Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). There is no such degree in equine practice, or any aspect of veterinary medicine. Dentists, the DDS type, undergo several years of formal professional education, after their undergraduate education. Their degree, DDS, is conferred by an academic institution, the same as an MD (doctor), or DVM (veterinarian), or JD (lawyer). Their degree indicates formal professional education and qualification. The law, in most states part of the constitution, restricts the care of your teeth to these "dentists." The law assigns this same obligation for horse teeth to the veterinarian.

The existence of these laws is a matter of consumer protection, not of restriction of trade. They exist to assure that persons who hold themselves out to the public as professionals and charge for their services are qualified by an academic institution and tested by a state agency to do so. There is no such degree as an "equine DDS. "No university or state agency recognizes this designation.

Before you choose a veterinary dental care provider for your horse, please consider that comprehensive dental care requires knowledge and application of anesthesia, surgery, pain control, anatomy and physiology. The terms "Certified Equine Dentist" or an "Equine Dental Technician," or even "equine dentist" do not exist from a legal or veterinary standpoint. These are self-designated titles, often used by member organizations.

Most equine medical insurance companies will not cover claims for injury, illness, or death resulting from treatment by a non-licensed or illegally practicing individual. The horse owner likely has no financial or legal recourse if a person not licensed by a state agency harms an animal.

In the past many veterinarians passed the routine "floating" of teeth to lay technicians. Inevitably this led to progressive confusion as to the qualifications of these individuals. Some actually became quite skilled at routine dental care. The problem came with the expansion of care to medical and surgical procedures. Sophisticated dental procedures are designated by the state as the responsibility of a licensed veterinarian. Technicians working "under the supervision of a veterinarian" can legally handle routine procedures. The reasons for these laws are to provide for responsibility for dental care, and to protect the consumer. Increasingly, dental procedures, developed for people, are being adapted for use in horses. Some of these procedures are beneficial in equine dental care. Some have proven to be detrimental, and on occasion harmful to the horse.

The AAEP recognizes and is responding to the increasing need for skilled equine veterinary dental care and critical evaluation of these new procedures. Not all veterinarians are interested in providing this care. It is increasingly becoming a subspecialty of veterinary practice. The AAEP is providing for the expansion of this specialized care with its Dentistry Committee.

The AAEP's Dentistry Committee is formed of 10 of the leading veterinary dental practitioners in the country. They are continually upgrading and standardizing equine dental training for graduate veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary technicians. The committee's work includes education for the horse owner and providing support regarding equine dentistry to state veterinary medical associations and legislative and regulatory bodies. These objectives are part of a comprehensive plan that will ensure the horse owner the highest quality of equine dental care. The AAEP encourages you to ask questions; be an educated consumer and an advocate for your horse's health. The Dentistry Committee of AAEP actively supports veterinary dental technicians and is working to expand education in this specialty, as defined by many practice acts. It does not advocate abandonment of the licensure laws designed to protect horse owners and their horses.

Drs. Lowell Smalley, Dan Harrison, Mary DeLorey, Rob Arnott, Katherine Burnett, and Claudia True are members of the AAEP Equine Dentistry Committee.

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