This mare carefully watches her foal while it plays. Photo by Courtney Uttech.

Equine dentistry: What’s the law?

Editor’s note: This article’s intent is to inform equine owners of some of the laws surrounding equine dental care in the state of Ohio. It is just an overview and should not be considered legal advice. The final decision in all matters of animal care lies in the hands of animal owners. Contact an attorney if you have further questions about who is legally qualified in the state of Ohio to perform equine dental care.

Today, equine dental care is often considered a routine part of maintaining the overall health of horses. Whether horse owners subscribe to a national equine publication or are members of a local equine club, equine dentistry is often at the forefront of horse owner educational articles and clinics. Whether the articles and clinicians preach the use of power tools by equine dentists or frown upon them, the theme remains the same — equine dentistry needs to be a routine part of equine care.

Although many horse owners are now aware of the importance of regular dental checkups for their horses, there is often a lack of education as to who is legally qualified to perform dentistry work on equines. Although horse owners can easily find advertisements for equine dentists, it is often more difficult to find an equine dentist that meets the requirements of Ohio laws to perform those services. Even more often, Ohio horse owners fail to realize there are laws that address the qualifications to perform such duties in the State.

Laws can be complicated to sort out and interpret so a look at the Veterinary Practice Act of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) is necessary. First, it is important to understand the legal definition of the practice of veterinary medicine.  The entire ORC as it applies to veterinarians can be reviewed at (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4741). The a few highlights as they apply to equine dentists will be reviewed below.

“(B) The ‘practice of veterinary medicine’ means the practice of any person who performs any of the following actions: (1) Diagnoses, prevents, or treats any disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, mental, or dental condition of any animal;  (2) Administers to or performs any medical or surgical technique on any animal that has any disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, mental, or dental condition or performs a surgical procedure on any animal;  (3) Prescribes, applies, or dispenses any drug, medicine, biologic, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance, or applies any apparatus for any disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, mental, or dental condition of any animal; (4) Uses complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies on animals;  (6) Represents the person’s self, directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, as having the ability and willingness to perform an act described in divisions (B)(1) to (4) of this section;”

Although this is an abbreviated version of the entire ORC, it is important to note that dental procedures and dispensing/applying drugs are included in the legal definition of the practice of veterinary in the state of Ohio. The ORC also goes on to define who is legally allowed to practice veterinary medicine in the State.

“(N) ‘Licensed veterinarian’ means a person licensed by the board to practice veterinary medicine.”

The previously quoted portions of the ORC make it seem apparent that in Ohio only licensed veterinarians can perform equine dental procedures and dispense the drugs that are often necessary to sedate horses for some of dental procedures, but it is important to understand that there are a few exceptions. The ORC goes on to explain the following:

“ (2) A registered veterinary technician operating under direct veterinary supervision may perform all of the following: (b) Dental prophylaxis, periodontal care, and extraction not involving sectioning of teeth or resection of bone or both of these; (c) Equine dental procedures, including the floating of molars, premolars, and canine teeth; removal of deciduous teeth; and the extraction of first premolars or wolf teeth. The degree of supervision by a licensed veterinarian over the functions performed by the registered veterinary technician shall be consistent with the standards of generally accepted veterinary medical practices.”

To add clarity to what “supervision” means in the ORC, it goes on to explain the following:

“(D) ‘Veterinary supervision’ means instruction and directions by a licensed veterinarian on the premises or by a licensed veterinarian who is readily available to communicate with a person requiring supervision.”

It would probably take an attorney to sort through the entire law to figure out all the loopholes, but it seems fairly clear that the intent of the law is to only allow veterinarians or licensed veterinary technicians under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to perform dental procedures. It seems the amount of supervision required could be open to some interpretation, but it is important to keep in mind that often even routine dental procedures require the horse to be sedated, which also requires a licensed veterinarian to supply the drugs and supervise their use.

No matter whom a horse owner chooses to use to perform dental care for their equines it is important for them to understand their state laws. Around the country several lawsuits have been filed against equine dentists practicing without a veterinarian license.

By working with their local veterinarian, horse owners can more easily start their search of a qualified equine dentist.

To read more about why it is important to work with a veterinarian when arranging dental care for your horse, read the article “Equine Dentistry: Protecting the horse from unlicensed dental care providers,” by Drs. Stephen Galloway and Lynn Caldwell.

3 comments

  1. According to the above reading farriers are breaking the law, and only veterinarians can trim / shoe horses. Hoves are trimmed to ptevent deformed hooves and overgrown hoves ( which left alone would get very painful).

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