Editor’s note: Many readers wrote in expressing their concern about the article “Your Horse’s Dental Health” (February ’16). The editors listened and when approached by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, we opted to print the organization’s thoughts on this important topic.
Many horse owners and trainers do not realize that it is illegal in almost every state in our nation for an individual without a veterinary license to perform dental services. Most state veterinary practice acts classify equine dentistry as a branch of veterinary medicine, meaning that only licensed veterinarians or a veterinary technician under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian are allowed by law to perform this service. The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association also strongly hold this same position. The veterinary practice acts recognize that veterinary training is a prerequisite to the practice of equine dentistry within the current standard of veterinary care, and the practice of equine dentistry by non veterinarian-dental care providers can jeopardize the health and welfare of horses.
I will always remember the case of the 7-year-old warmblood who was sent to my veterinary clinic for evaluation of an enlarged lower jaw. The horse’s medical history revealed a recently attempted tooth extraction by a “certified equine dentist,” which had gone horribly wrong.
I learned that prior to this attempted extraction, no diagnostics were performed, no medical condition was identified and the horse was sedated with drugs that had been obtained and administered illegally. The procedure was stopped after two hours because the tooth still had not been removed and an artery in the horse’s mouth began to hemorrhage. By the time the horse reached me, he was having difficulty eating and experiencing obvious discomfort.
A complete oral examination and radiographs showed us the true reason for the enlarged jaw: an impacted healthy tooth deep inside the horse’s jaw. All teeth in the horse’s mouth were normal. The attempted extraction was completely unnecessary. This case is an unfortunate example of a nonprofessional endangering the health and welfare of a horse because he or she does not have the appropriate education, training and licensure.
Like so many other areas of veterinary medicine, equine dental care is rapidly advancing. We now understand so much more about how the health of the mouth affects equine behavior and correlates to other disease processes within the body. Our equipment has improved dramatically, too. In the hands of an unqualified individual, the use of sharp tungsten-carbide blades and power dental tools can damage healthy, viable structures in the mouth. Your horse’s dental care today is not simply floating teeth.
Growing knowledge and modern equipment demand a corresponding level of education and skill from dental-care providers. Veterinarians are the best qualified to provide dental care to your horse because of their more than eight years of medical training in animal sciences, biology and veterinary medicine. Only a veterinarian has the medical knowledge to diagnose and treat a dental condition that may affect the horse’s overall health. Veterinarians also are prepared to refer particularly severe or complicated cases to specialists with extensive experience.
Even routine dental work may require more than a nonveterinarian dental-care provider can do. For example, to safely perform a thorough oral examination, sedation and adequate restraint are recommended. Treatment, if necessary, may then include antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. All are things that a veterinarian is licensed to provide but an owner or layperson is not.
Before you, as an owner, select someone to perform dental procedures on your horse, the question must be asked: Do you want the most educated, accountable and trained individual to care for your horse? Do you want the assurance that a licensed professional will be available and accountable to you and your horse in the hours and days following the care provided? If the answer is yes, then an equine veterinarian is the professional who can best meet your horse’s dental needs.
To locate an AAEP-member veterinarian who can provide dental services for your horse, use the AAEP’s convenient database of veterinary providers at aaep.org/info/owners.
Dr. Jack Easley: is the owner of Easley Equine Dentistry and Equine Veterinary Practice LLC in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He is board certified by the American Veterinary Dental College and serves as an officer of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.