Everything Else Veterinary

Teeth – Vet or EDT?

Promo pic - L dentistry

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).



About the author

The Eventing Vet


  • EDT every time – vets (who have not specialised in dentistry ) have weeks training – this is terrible. A vet almost killed my horse by not treating her teeth properly – not noticing 2 broken teeth, ulcers and the fact it was not eating properly – I kept pointing this out when i called the vet for the horses weight loss, constant colicing and all the vet wanted to do was scope the horses stomach and said it had ulcers. The horse was on the point of death. I called the dentist – he did its teeth and it was eating properly in a day.- vets are unqualified to treat teeth (unless they have taken further dentist qualifications). It is absolute arrogance for a vet to think they can do everything. They can’t – specialization is the answer

    • Just so you are aware, vets are not ‘unqualified to treat teeth’ you should probably read up on what a vet actually is…but i do agree, vets can’t do everything, and thankfully mixed practise is fading out and people are becoming more specialised to certain species, which is only a good thing. As the author has mentioned, you are someone who’s had a bad experience but you shouldn’t generalise just on that.

  • I always thought the only people who could administer a sedative into a nervous horse was a vet which gives them the edge when dealing with many different horses.

  • I have learnt from a recent bad experience of using a so called equine dentist. leave the dentistry to the qualified experts.without a doubt.I Ended up with a horse that needed extensive work done on his teeth and had a bad attack of compaction colic which was a major contributor to this as he could,nt chew his food properly.please use a qualified vet.I learnt the hard way !!!

  • I had a vet who specialised in dentistry do my horses teeth. Never again, she missed sharp bits, did work that was not required and basically we had three months of rearing, after her visit. I got my normal equine dentist in to do his teeth again and within three days the rearing had stopped.

  • I think these comments exactly prove my point. People usually choose based on their own experience – some people won’t touch EDTs, others won’t touch vets. However, whatever the circumstances that may have been encountered in individual situations there are excellent practitioners in both camps. Just make sure if you do use an EDT it is a fully qualified (and insured!) one who appears on the BEVA/BAEDT or WWAED lists linked to in the article.

  • I used to be EDT only,and wouldn’t give vets the time of day for teeth as heard lots of horror stories. Mind you I saw some horrible practices on other horses by people with sundry electrical appliances who appeared (to my untrained eye but 40 plus years around horses, not to be doing much of a job. Some of these horses were 45 minutes with their heads in the special bridle, necks bent back and thoroughly distressed.

    However at my fantastic vet practice one of the vets has specialised and qualified in dentistry so when he came to vaccinate my boy a couple of years ago he offered a free check up of his teeth. I am so delighted as he had a diastema, two extra teeth on different sides at the back and although he didn’t have any apparent problems these were things that only a specialist vet could properly deal with.

  • I completely agree with the sentiments that if you choose a dentist rather than a vet that you should look for a category 2 qualified dentist. It is only this approach that will encourage non-qualified dentists to take the qualification and thereby improve the standards in equine dentistry.

    There are some vets that are also good exponents of dentistry, however, it is difficult for a vet to get the practical experience that a dentist will as they have many other functions to perform in their work; from vaccinating to surgery. As has been said in the article, vets that now wish to have a dentistry focus are now taking the BEVA version of the Category 2 exam to demonstrate their dentistry competency.

    One point that I would like to make is that DEFRA and the RCVS sanctioned two groups to offer category 2 exams; ourselves the WWAED and BEVA. The exams are offered as alternatives to each other, although both require the same level of competency to pass. If you pass the BEVA exam then you can join the BAEDT, which is an association for category 2 dentists, if you pass the WWAED exam you are also able to join the BAEDT.

    The WWAED is also an association for dentists, with one difference, we also accept non-qualified dentists as members. However, they are assessed before joining and will only be allowed to join as a probationary member if their work is of a sufficiently good standard. They also have to take our Entrance exam within a specified time period. This will test them on category 1 procedures (which is the work that most dentists perform in their daily work – balancing maintenance of the horses mouth) and upgrade their status from Probationary Member to Full Member. All members are encouraged to take their Category 2 exam (which covers more advanced procedures). If you have been accepted to join the WWAED then you have to take the association insurance negotiated specifically with the NFU. If your insurance lapses then your membership is terminated.

    I hope this helps.

  • Very interesting article. Personally I have used two qualified EDT’s (both appear on your list) & a vet – I’ve been very happy with all of them. I’m a little surprised that this list only shows 18 dentists in the country. How does it compare to this list?

    It’s very confusing as there are so many different bodies and associations.

  • Hi, I think you were probably looking at the second link in the article, the WWAED one. There are only a small number (18 sounds about right) of dentists who are approved via this route. The main list (this one: http://www.baedt.com/?c=5432) linked from the article show the people who have qualified via the BEVA/BVDA exam – there are around 90-100 of these so there are plenty of qualified practitioners working country-wide. This is the same as the BEVA list you have linked to.

    I agree that it is confusing, and even as a vet working with an interest in dentistry I didn’t know about the WWAED list until about a year ago. Basically, unless they’re on either of the lists linked to here they’re not a qualified EDT.

    Hope this helps.

  • It is all well and good spouting off about who should and who shouldn’t be doing horses teeth. However, when ever this subject comes up the only people who are mentioned are the members of the BEADT, it is never mentioned that those 100 people who are listed are not the only people who have passed the BEVA exam! There are countless others who are not on the list who have passed the exam but have for one reason or another either not joined the BEADT or HAVE JOINED AND LEFT.

    Everyone crows about this exam and how good it is but they don’t tell what a shambles it is!

    This makes interesting reading if you have horses and are interested in the welfare of their teeth then just read this link :


    There are people who have passed this exam who have not been examined using power tools, and most have not been seen removing wolf teeth. You are told not to do this and not to do that on the exam day as the examiner may not like it. The examiners go off and get another examiner to have look as they are not sure if what you did was ok. They argue amongst themselves as to WHAT IS RIGHT AND WHAT ISN’T whilst the candidate looks on resigned to their fate. There is no right of appeal if the candidate believes they have not received fair treatment.
    The IAED exam is much fairer and more thorough on the day the horses are examined by the examiners and charted the examiners never come into contact with the candidates. The candidates are supervised by certified EDT’s when carrying out the work once completed the candidates leave the area. the horses are then examined again by the examiners who score the standard of work and pass or fail is on a percentage agreed by several examiners. Once the decision is made the candidate is then called back this is the first time the examiners know who the candidate is!

    People are very fond of knocking the American training but there are no proper training facilities in the UK!!!!

    As the vet says 20 years ago there was not a lot of science attached to Equine Dentistry but where did this modern day scientific approach come from, certainly not all from the UK! Most of it came from the likes of Jack Easley DVM, Tom Allen DVM and a group of American equine Dentist’s who carried out a great deal of pioneering and in some case close to experimental work on horses teeth to bring us to where we are now.

    Until the 90’s you couldn’t by decent equine dentistry tools in the uk you had to buy them from America, Switzerland or Denmark.

    If you are looking for a Vet or an EDT to do your horses teeth your safest route is to go on the recommendation of other horse owners rather than picking a name out of a hat.