Educating Clients on the Legal Medical Aspects Surrounding Equine Dentistry
Written by Katherine Pearce | Senior Creative Lead
According to the 2022 Florida Statutes, veterinary medicine in the state of Florida includes, with respect to, animals, surgery, acupuncture, obstetrics, dentistry, physical therapy, radiology, theriogenology, and other branches or specialties of veterinary medicine.1
While dentistry is legally considered under the umbrella of veterinary medicine, the ‘floating of equine teeth falls into a particular gray area. Although the definition of the term “practice of veterinary medicine” in Florida includes dentistry, the manual hand floating of teeth in equines Bynon-veterinarians is something that has existed in Florida for many years and is considered to be legally acceptable. Florida is one of only 19 states that exempt equine teeth floating from the practice of veterinary medicine, thereby allowing non-veterinarians to perform the task without supervision by a veterinarian. The majority of U.S. states mandate that licensed veterinarians are solely able to perform equine dental treatments and procedures.² Those states that exempt floating (including Florida) only allow it under certain specific conditions, such as only being performed with manual tools.
As mentioned above, a veterinarian refers to a person who is licensed to engage in surgery, acupuncture, obstetrics, dentistry, physical therapy, radiology, theriogenology, and other branches or specialties of animal medicine. A veterinary technician (CVT) instructs clients, performs laboratory testing, takes radiographs, provides skilled nursing care to animal patients, administers medications, and assists in anesthesia and surgery. These tasks are done at the direction of a veterinarian but may be performed with varying levels of supervision as specified by the Veterinary Practice Act.³ Technicians, as outlined below, represent the only exception to utilizing sedation in equine teeth floating.
Prior to 2006, Florida law stated the following:
(5)(a) Any person, or the person’s regular employee, administering to the ills or injuries of her or his own animals, including, but not limited to, castration, spaying, and dehorning of herd animals, unless the title is transferred or employment provided for the purpose of circumventing this law¹, This exemption does not apply to any person licensed as a veterinarian in another state or foreign jurisdiction and practicing temporarily in this state. However, only a veterinarian may immunize or treat an animal for diseases that are communicable to humans and that are of public health significance.
In 2006, the following language was enacted:
(b) A person hired on a part-time or temporary basis, or as an independent contractor, by an owner to assist with herd management and animal husbandry tasks for herd and flock animals, including castration, dehorning, parasite control, and debeaking, or a person hired on a part-time or temporary basis, or as an independent contractor, by an owner to provide farriery and manual hand floating of teeth on equines. This exemption does not apply to any person who has been convicted of a violation of Chapter 828 that relates to animal cruelty or a similar offense in another jurisdiction.
Rule 61G18-17.005, F.A.C., is the rule that lists the tasks that require immediate supervision by a veterinarian. Immediate supervision is on-premises supervision, whereas general supervision is off-premises. Paragraph (1)(a) of that rule allows a veterinary technician to administer treatment, as directed by the veterinarian, under general supervision. Paragraph (2) of that rule states that the administration of anesthesia or tranquilization by a veterinary technician requires immediate supervision. These paragraphs indicate that a veterinary technician could use motorized tools to float teeth under general supervision, but only if anesthesia or tranquilization is not required.
While veterinarians and veterinary technicians have defined roles, abilities, education, and licensing or credentialing bodies they must answer to, an ‘equine dentist’ is a layman who has no such education or credentialing. The titles ‘equine dentist’ or dental specialist’ do not refer to an equine veterinarian capable of providing comprehensive care.
It is key that your clients understand the limitations of layman ‘equine dentists,’ both legally and practically – and why it is, therefore, the key to utilize and consult their equine veterinarian in all matters relating to their horse’s health, including dental needs, as there are many conditions which a non-veterinarian dentist cannot address or fix. Aside from the above exception for veterinary technicians, it is not legal for a non-veterinarian layman ‘equine dentist’ or ‘equine dental specialist’ to sedate a horse, perform extractions, or do other dental procedures, including those utilizing power tools. These limitations greatly affect the dental care being provided to clients’ horses, and clients should be made aware of this to ensure that their horse’s mouth is adequately cared for rather than solely relying on an ‘equine dentist.’
It is worth noting that the language these ‘specialists’ use can be confusing for clients. While the AVMA now recognizes a subspecialty of the American Veterinary Dental College as of 2014, there are presently only 22 equine dental specialists recognized by the AVMA and eight equine veterinarians in 2.5-year training programs around the country.* State veterinary bodies are responsible for the process of licensing and, to a certain extent enforcing the laws as they pertain to veterinary medicine.4
‘Equine dentists’ or ‘equine dental specialists’ may have any degree of training and are not held up to veterinary licensing standards. As veterinary laws and rules can only be enforced on licensed veterinarians, treatments done by laypersons are open to unusual liabilities. Horse owners have little or no recourse if there are issues with the work performed by the layperson. On the other hand, if a layperson is working under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, then that layperson is acting as a veterinary technician, and the veterinarian is responsible for the acts performed by a veterinary technician under her or his supervision.⁴
Dealing With Clients
If the lack of legal recourse is not enough to deter clients, inadequate care, pain, and potentially permanent damage to their equine’s mouth should also be noted. An equine’s mouth is highly evolved and complex. Its job, diet, genetics, age, and other factors affect the type and frequency of dental work that may be required. Dental procedures, even routine ones, can lead to complications and even injuries, such as fractured or loosened teeth due to chewing on floats or worse.⁴ A licensed veterinarian, unlike a layperson, is highly qualified to provide care, diagnose, and offer a more holistic view of equine health. If you do not provide comprehensive equine dental care, you can refer your clients to a veterinary colleague that does.⁴
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When speaking with clients, it is key they understand the scope of care that can be provided by an ‘equine dentist’ versus a licensed veterinarian. While you may not change their mind if they are committed to using a layman dentist, you will have ensured they are caring for their equines with full knowledge, and they will at least have a thorough understanding of what the limitations and consequences may be. It is also worth reminding clients that if they are traveling with their horses in one of the 31 states which do not exempt equine teeth floating from the practice of veterinary medicine, they will need to seek out a licensed veterinarian if their horse needs dental care.
The AAEP’s Position on Equine Dentistry
The practice of equine dentistry is an integral branch of professional equine veterinary practice. This discipline encompasses all aspects of the evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of any and all diseases, disorders, and conditions that affect the teeth, oral cavity, mandible, maxillofacial area, and the adjacent and associated structures. Additionally, equine dentistry includes the evaluation of the presentation and contribution of systemic diseases within the oral cavity and the contribution of oral conditions to the overall health of the individual horse.
Any surgical procedure of the head or oral cavity; the administration or prescription of sedatives, tranquilizers, analgesics, or anesthetics; procedures which are invasive of the tissues of the oral cavity including, but not limited to, removal of sharp enamel points, treatment of malocclusions of premolars, molars, and incisors, odontoblasts, the extraction of first premolars and deciduous premolars and incisors; extraction of damaged or diseased teeth; treatment of diseased teeth via restorations or endodontic procedures; periodontal and orthodontic treatments; dental radiography and endoscopy of the oral cavity are veterinary dental procedures and should be performed by a licensed veterinarian.
In states where the Veterinary Practice Act allows, the AAEP supports the use of licensed veterinary technicians under the employ and immediate supervision of licensed veterinarians for specific and appropriate veterinary dental procedures as enumerated in that state’s practice act. Revised by AAEP board of directors in 2019.
Written by Katherine Pearce | Senior Creative Lead
*Correction made August 1, 2023
Please note there was previously an error in paragraph nine of this article which stated:
It is worth noting that the language these ‘specialists’ use can be confusing for clients. Although there is a board certification process for veterinary dental medicine, there is currently no specific “equine only” tract for this specialty. Should a veterinarian wish to become board-certified in dentistry, they would be required to learn and study all species (including equine) as they pertain to dentistry.
and has been updated to read:
It is worth noting that the language these ‘specialists’ use can be confusing for clients. While the AVMA now recognizes a subspecialty of the American Veterinary Dental College as of 2014, there are presently only 22 equine dental specialists recognized by the AVMA and eight equine veterinarians in 2.5-year training programs around the country.