Austin, Texas — The debate over who can perform equine teeth-floating procedures surfaced again in Texas.
In fact, Peter Rakestraw, DVM, a soft-tissue surgeon at Texas A&M University and board member of the Texas Veterinary Medical
Association (TVMA), wants legislation to limit the practice of equine dentistry to qualified veterinarians or those under
direct supervision of a veterinarian.
"As a teacher who looks at end-stage problems in a horse's mouth, dentistry is more than filing sharp points on teeth. How
you manage the teeth, gums and associated structures has a profound effect on the health of the horse, its performance and
well-being," he says.
At its core, the debate focuses on the definition of equine dentistry. According to Elizabeth Choate, JD, TVMA director of
government relations/general counsel, the current legal definition of veterinary medicine in the Texas Veterinary Practice
Act includes dentistry.
"However, because the act lacks a specific definition of dentistry, our state is now plagued with unsupervised, unregulated,
non-veterinarians who misrepresent themselves as skilled equine dentists," Choate contends.
In 2007, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TSBVME) sent out cease-and-desist orders against many non-veterinarians
who were practicing and promoting the practice of equine dentistry without a license. Answering the cease-and-desist measure,
four non-veterinarians and two horse owners sued the state board, contending that it supported a "monopolistic licensing scheme"
with aim to run lay equine dentists out of business. They wanted a permanent injunction barring prosecution. The lawsuit suit
remains in the preliminary motions stage.
Protecting animal welfare
Texas veterinarians, for at least the last 100 years, have been committed to safeguarding the health and welfare of the 1
million horses in the state, counters Steve Golla, DVM, of Chisholm Trail Veterinary Clinic.
"With that comes a responsibility from veterinarians to guard the welfare of the horse in the state. This becomes an animal-welfare
issue—determining who is truly best qualified to evaluate overall well-being of the horse," Golla says.
"The nonveterinarians who call themselves equine dentists are looking at the tooth of the animal and they're not looking at
how the health of the tooth relates to the entire horse. By just addressing one issue and not encompassing the entire picture,
that puts the horse in jeopardy," he adds.
However, according to Golla, not all equine teeth floaters are unsupervised and unregulated. Some in fact do practice under
veterinarians, which is considered acceptable.
But critics contend there is a greater danger in having non-veterinarians practice dental medicine—their possession and use
of prescription drugs in performing procedures.
"They are not licensed to use controlled substances, and we are not sure how and where they're getting them," Golla says.
"They are sedating the animals — and the biggest law-breaking fraction is that they are not licensed to purchase these drugs, nor do they have any background
in pharmacology or physiology to understand how the drugs work in the animals," he contends.
"Yet we hear horror stories of animals being sedated and flopping around on the ground. If I do that to a horse I am held
liable for malpractice. But with non-veterinarians, there is no protection of the public if something happens," he says.