I’m going to have to declare a bias here. As is evident from my pseudonym I’m a vet. And not only a vet, but an equine vet with an interest in dentistry. I have become interested in the debate over who best to treat a horse’s teeth: a vet or an Equine Dental Technician (EDT)? Whenever it crops up as a subject on horse forums it seems to polarise opinion. There seem to be the ‘vet only, I wouldn’t trust anyone else’ brigade, and the ‘only ever EDT, my vet is useless’ camp with virtually no middle ground. It’s unlikely that one short article by me will change the mind of anyone with such a fixed viewpoint, but hopefully it may help explain a little bit about modern dentistry and who should be carrying it out.
When I first qualified there wasn’t a lot to dentistry. I was issued with two (blunt) rasps and a rusty gag and left to get on with it. My boss didn’t even see the need for the gag! I knew I wasn’t serving horses well and felt bad for the owners, but the science of dentistry was really in its infancy and no-one in this country was doing anything much more advanced. Around the turn of the millenium there was general acceptance that dentistry needed to be approved and regulated and the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT) was born in 2001. BEVA started running courses for vets interested in dentistry around the same time and the BEVA/BAEDT examination and recognised EDT status was born. The whole history of modern equine dentistry is really encapsulated in the last 15 or 20 years so it really is a late starter in comparison to a lot of other veterinary fields.
So what does this mean in terms of qualifications? Basically there are three groups of people who work on horses’ teeth:
1. Equine Dentists – these are unqualified dentists. Anyone is legally allowed to carry out basic manual rasping and removal of loose ‘caps’ (the baby deciduous molars that are shed between 2 and 4 years old). Some of these people call themselves ‘American trained’ – which pretty much means that they have attended a two week training couse in the US. They may carry letters after their name such as IAED or AAEDT but these are not recognised qualifications in the UK. Many have never had their work examined or tested or posess any qualifications at all. It is illegal for them to carry out anything more than basic manual rasping of normal teeth, use power tools or remove any adult teeth, including wolf teeth and loose molars. Also vets shouldn’t be sedating horses for these unqualified dentists to work on.
2. Equine Dental Technicians (EDTs) – this is a protected term for those who have passed the BEVA/BAEDT exam. This is a rigorous examination comprising theory and practical components. Candidates are not accepted to sit the exam until they have submitted 300 dental charts from cases they have treated, including 40 from advanced cases. EDTs can use motorised equipment, remove wolf teeth and loose adult molars and perform corrective rasping where there are significant abnormalities. They are all listed on a register which can be found here.
3. Vets – obviously all vets are qualified to carry out any work within a horse’s mouth, from basic rasping to complicated surgical extractions. However some vets are more interested in this than others. Often a look at the biographies on a practice website will reveal who has a special interest in dentistry. Don’t be afraid to request a vet who has the expertise and equipment in this area. Some vets have also passed the BEVA/BAEDT exam and appear on the list of EDTs. This exam takes up a lot of time and money, so those that do sit it are often those who work with teeth for a large percentage of time, and some may exclusively do dental work. Don’t necessarily dismiss those who haven’t done the exam. Many are equally competent, just short of time to complete the paperwork and sit an exam which doesn’t actually qualify them to do anything extra.
I suspect that a lot of people who are biased against, or have had bad experiences with, vets performing dentistry haven’t encountered one of the new breed of vets. There is a real interest and expertise in the subject within a large sector of the profession and knowledge and ability has increased exponentially in the last 10 years or so.
Qualified EDTs are generally excellent, and should you choose to use one of these you should be in expert hands. Most are interested in working with your vet (in a similar fashion to a good farrier or physio) and will look at the mouth as a part of the whole animal. Whichever you choose, find one that you can trust, who demonstrates and explains things, and with whom you can build a good working relationship.
To summarise – there are only two groups of people who should be working on your horse’s teeth: vets, and EDTs on this list who have passed the BEVA/BAEDT exam (there are also a small group who are legal to work in the UK but haven’t sat the BEVA exam. These can be found on the WWAED list here).