EQUINE dentistry is a rapidly progressing field and it is hugely encouraging that there has been an increase in awareness, amongst horse owners, of the need to have their horses’ teeth examined regularly. This has also been reflected in an increase in the number of service providers who fulfil the demand. As with many sectors, however, there is scope for confusion surrounding the accreditation and qualifications of those involved in treating horses’ teeth.
It is important to be aware that legally the term ‘dentist’ is a protected title, only to be used by human dentists, meaning that there is no such thing as an ‘equine dentist’. Technicians cannot use this title as to do so would be misleading, implying a comparable level of training to human dentists, at degree level, that doesn’t currently exist. In fact, some ‘equine dentistry’ training programmes exist, which are just a few weeks duration.
Equine Vets are not ‘dentists’ either, but they are trained in dentistry to both examine and treat the horse’s mouth as part of the whole horse. The mouth is, after all, the beginning of the horse’s digestive tract and inextricably linked to many other key anatomical areas. Appropriate knowledge of dental anatomy and disorders allows early diagnosis of problems and subsequent treatment to be performed before a serious problem develops. Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966), a ‘diagnosis’ can only be reached by a qualified Veterinary Surgeon.
If inadequately trained persons without recognised qualifications are allowed to treat horses, serious problems could be missed or ineffective treatment given to your horse, which could have implications in the future. This concern has been addressed by The British Horse Society (BHS), who have released a document titled ‘No Pain, Check Again’. It is designed to help owners learn more about equine dentistry and how they can make the best choices for their horses.
In the leaflet, the BHS recommend either a Veterinary Surgeon trained in modern dentistry or a qualified Equine Dental Technician (EDT), who is registered with the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT). To be registered with the BAEDT, EDT’s must pass specific examinations, be fully insured and work within strict guidelines to ensure that the horse’s welfare and safety is never compromised. There may be instances when an EDT will have to request a Veterinary Surgeon to attend for example for sedation, or to refer to when more invasive treatment is required. To find an EDT in your area, visit the BAEDT website: www.baedt.com. Some vets are also members of the BAEDT.
In the cases of advanced procedures, your horse may be referred to a Vet who specialises in equine dentistry. The word ‘Specialist’ or ‘Advanced Practitioner’ when used by vets must reflect further qualifications, which permit use of the title and placement of their name on the Register of Specialists with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). The need for increased levels of equine dentistry training amongst vets has been recognised and many dedicated programmes now exist. With this purpose, the Equine Veterinary Dental Association (EVDA) was formed in 2017 to promote high standards in equine veterinary dentistry. They run CPD events in the UK and Ireland, see www.evda-online.com
Insurance is also another vital requirement for all equine dentistry providers. This should take the form of both professional indemnity and public liability insurance and it is good practice to establish this is in place before allowing anyone to treat your horse. It is also worth noting that some insurers won’t pay out on claims for veterinary fees in relation to dentistry unless your dentistry provider has nationally recognised qualifications. You are advised to check this with your insurer and importantly retain the charts provided from all dentistry treatments.
It is never wrong to put your horse’s welfare first and reputable dentistry providers will welcome an opportunity to discuss their registration and will be able to direct you to their regulatory body.
The BHS ‘No Pain, Check Again’ document can be found at www.bhs.org.uk and is available for download as a PDF.