There is much confusion in the horse world about who is qualified and who is not and what horse dentists can and can’t do. This article is designed to clear the fog surrounding the area of equine dentistry and to dispel a few myths along the way.

How do Equine Dentists become qualified?

There are a number of equine dentistry procedures that are covered by the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966, that have been agreed to be made exempt from the  Veterinary Act of 1966,  for suitably qualified equine dentists

Back in 2004, DEFRA and the RCVS approved two Refresher training Courses for experienced equine dentists. Those individuals who successfully completed either of these courses will be issued with a ‘certificate of exemption’ from DEFRA, and entered on a list of qualified equine dentists when the legislation comes into force. The two courses approved are run by ourselves, the WorldWide Association of Equine Dentistry (WWAED) and the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA).

As you will see from the snapshot from the DEFRA website below, both courses have equal standing. However, DEFRA have not maintained a single definitive list of qualified equine dentists, and so you need to look at the WWAED website for our category 2 qualified dentists and the BEVA website where they maintain their own.

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The DEFRA webpage article outlining the Category 2 qualification

You may also hear reference to the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians. This is an association that equine dentists can join if they have successfully completed either the WWAED Category 2 Refresher Course or the BEVA Category 2 Refresher Course.

Why Category 2 and are there other categories?

The procedures referenced in the Veterinary Act of 1966 (VA 1966) are the more advanced procedures of equine dentistry, like removal of large dental overgrowths and extraction of wolf teeth (although wolf teeth removal is not actually referenced in the VA 1966).

However, the majority of horses do not need these more advanced procedures. Most horses require their teeth examining and then basic rasping, removal of sharp edges and overgrowths, removal of loose caps (baby teeth) and removal of supragingival calculus (similar to tartar in humans). These procedures are not covered by the VA 1966 and therefore anybody can legally perform these procedures on a horse. These procedures are referred to as Category 1.

The WWAED believe that  Category 1 procedures should also be assessed, and to that end we have our own standards with the WWAED. New members are assessed to understand their level of competency, and if sufficient, they are invited to join the WWAED. All WWAED members are expected to take and pass the association Entrance Exam, which is purely a test of  Category 1 competencies. If the member is unable to pass within 3 attempts, then their situation will be removed and they may be asked to leave the association. In this way, we can ensure that horse owners can feel confident in the capabilities of a WWAED equine dentist. We also insist that all WWAED Members must take our bespoke insurance policy from Agriculture Insurance Brokers, to cover them for all relevant procedures.

There are also Category 3 procedures. These are advanced equine dental procedures that can only be performed by a veterinarian. All dentists that identify an issue that requires a Category 3 procedure of treatment must refer the horse to a veterinarian.

What is the difference between an equine dentist and an equine dental technician?

The short answer is nothing. The term equine dental technician is a term that is preferred by BEVA to describe an equine dentist. In the WWAED we believe that the term equine dentist or horse dentist is much easier for the public to relate to, and so we have decided to continue to use the term equine dentist. We contacted the British Dental Association (human dentists) and asked if there would be an issue if we used the term ‘dentist’. They wrote back to us stating that provided it was preceded by the word ‘equine’, they had no issues with it whatsoever.

Does the Category 2 Refresher Course apply to vets?

BEVA have acknowledged that dentistry training is not being addressed as part of the veterinary schools curriculum. In fact, to try to address this issue, BEVA recently began to offer equine dentistry training to newly qualified  veterinarians saying: “BEVA have recognised that the Veterinary Schools have neither the time in the crowded undergraduate curriculum nor the resources to allow undergraduates to become proficient in equine dentistry.”

Veterinarians that want to specialise in equine dentistry have put themselves forward for the BEVA Category 2 Refresher Course, as this demonstrates to their clients that they have similar capabilities to full-time equine dentists, and it therefore puts the client at ease and ensures that the horse receives the right treatment.

My vet said that they will not sedate for a dentist who did not take the BEVA category 2 exam.

This is often talked about, but, we are not aware of many veterinarians who have taken this position. As the DEFRA document above clearly shows, the examinations of the WWAED and BEVA have parity and dentists that complete either course have comparable competency levels. This is predominantly a misunderstanding on the part of the veterinarian. In cases where veterinarians who have been unsure about sedation for WWAED we have communicated the current situation to them and the situation has been rectified. In all cases it transpired that the position on sedation for equine dentists had not been communicated to them, and once the position had been clarified, they were happy to work with our dentists. In all cases, we have been assured that this was not a case of trying to promote one organisation and restrict the practising of another. We are pleased to say that communication has improved, because it has been sometime since a situation like this has occurred.

Is the Exemption Order in place now?

Unfortunately, the exemption order has still not been finalised. However, when the Refresher courses were originally approved, it was on the understanding that qualified equine dentists would be able to practise while awaiting the finalisation of the Exemption Order. Since that time, a number of people have attended the BEVA and the WWAED Category 2 Refresher Training courses. Unfortunately, since the first set of procedures were generated with all invested parties present, individual groups have tried to re-write the wording for the Exemption Order. BEVA have generated two alternative sets of wording for the exemption order, however, they remain a BEVA wish-list as it requires all of the original stakeholders in agreement to change the original wording.

The WWAED believes that in certain, specific areas, the wording should be changed. Technology has improved dramatically since 2004 and the current power tools are as safe as hand tools. The WWAED believe that in the original wording of the Exemption Order it should have been purely the procedures that were regulated and not the tools as it was inevitable that technology would be moving forward very quickly.

The WWAED are always open to meet with the original stakeholders to finalise the Exemption Order wording. However, it does not appear to be possible to have all the other parties available at any one time. Hopefully, this will be resolved in the not-too-distant future.