Austin, Texas — A court ruling temporarily disabled the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners' ability to take action against non-veterinarians
who practice equine teeth floating without sedation.
A district court's decision brings an end, for now, to a lawsuit filed by the public interest law firm Institute for Justice
against the state board on behalf of teeth floaters. The state veterinary board sent cease-and-desist letters to several teeth
floaters in 2007, in an attempt to marshal what it describes as the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine.
"As a result of my efforts, the board's efforts, to stop what we believed was the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine
by so-called teeth floaters, we were sued," explains Dewey Helmcamp, executive director of the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical
Examiners. "(Teeth floaters) filed this suit against the board in August 2007 basically seeking a declaratory judgment that
the veterinary practice act was unconstitutional insofar as it would allow the board to prevent these teeth floaters from
practicing their trade."
In the end, the court says the state board should have adopted a rule defining equine dentistry before it could make equine
dentistry a part of the veterinary practice act. The court did, however, dismiss the teeth floater's claims that the veterinary
practice act was unconstitutional.
"Over the years, (teeth floaters) more or less been overlooked, ignored and allowed to float teeth," Helmcamp says. The court
said that until the board adopts rules by the administrative procedure act, which is a requirement for agency rulemaking,
they can't force teeth floaters to stop, Helmcamp says.
In response to the court's decision, the board proposed a rule in December 2010 that would prohibit lay people from floating
teeth unless under the supervision of a veterinarian. The proposal is now in the notice and comment phase, and the board is
expected to adopt a formal rule at its March meeting.
Texas isn't the first state to clash with teeth floaters. In Oklahoma, a battle over equine dentistry heated up after a world
champion rodeo competitor turned teeth floater was charged with a felony for practicing equine dentistry without a license.
The charges were later reduced to a misdemeanor. By 2010, after more involvement from state rulemakers, Gov. Brad Henry signed
a law allowing non-veterinarians to float teeth as equine dental-care providers after paying the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary
Medical Examiners a $200 fee and completing a certification program consisting of at least 80 hours of education in equine
dentistry. Under the new law, horse owners or their employees can also administer sedatives with a valid client-veterinarian
relationship and prescription.