Trust Your Veterinarian With Your Horse’s Dental Work

16 Aug Trust Your Veterinarian With Your Horse’s Dental Work

Most horse owners have been told that a horse’s teeth wear and change as horses age, and that teeth need to be “floated” throughout the animal’s life.  Many owners are aware of signs that a horse needs immediate dental attention, such as dropping food, “quidding,” (dropping clumps of half-chewed hay or grass), weight loss, holding the head to one side while eating, or even aversion to the bit while bridling or under saddle.

However, many owners aren’t aware of the reasons why a licensed veterinarian should perform the annual dental exam and float.  In the horse world, there are lay persons who practice “equine dentistry.”  Some owners have even been told that an “equine dentist” has more expertise than a veterinarian at working on a horse’s teeth.  Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that practicing equine dentistry in Tennessee as a non-veterinarian is illegal.  This is for the protection of both the owner and the horse. If your horse had an abscessed tooth, an infection, or needed an extraction, would you trust anyone other than your veterinarian to treat your horse?

It is important to consider:

  • Floating by non-veterinarians is based on tradition. Professional dentistry as provided by veterinarians is based on science and extensive training. Your veterinarian performs dentistry as part of your horse’s health care plan.
  • A complete oral examination requires sedation, and sedation in horses is not as safe as it may appear. If a horse experiences complications, a veterinarian is able to immediately treat the animal.
  • Dental problems must be addressed as early as possible to prevent severe, possibly life-long oral conditions. Your veterinarian can refer complicated cases to a veterinary dental specialist when necessary. Non-veterinarians have neither the training nor resources to treat the majority of dental conditions seen in horses. Misdiagnosed and untreated dental conditions are common in horses treated by non-veterinarian providers.
  • Veterinarians are accountable to the state licensing board; laypersons are not accountable to anyone, including you, should any issue arise.

As a general rule, a horse owner should check the credentials of anyone working on their horses.  Anyone can take a class or work alongside a professional and learn a skill, and many non-veterinarians have assumed the title “Equine Dentist.”  Veterinarians must graduate from a four-year veterinary college and pass a national licensing exam before they can legally practice. They must complete an additional three-year residency and pass specialty testing to earn the title “Equine Dentist.”

Owners can visit the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners website for additional information. To find a veterinarian in your area of the state, visit the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association’s Find-A-Vet tool.

This article was prepared for Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association with the assistance of Dr. Stephen Galloway, Animal Care Hospital, Oakland, TN.