Every six months you head to the dentist’s office for a cleaning and checkup. Horses too benefit from regular dentistry work. How often your horse needs dental care depends on his age, lifestyle, and other factors. With the number of available equine dentists, it may be a confusing task to determine who to hire for this work.

Graduate veterinarians receive their degree in medicine, surgery, and dentistry, so it stands to reason that a veterinarian is one of the best resources to address your horse’s dentistry needs. That said, some states allow laypersons to perform dentistry practices on horses. Usually, the law is written with the intention that a lay dentist works alongside a licensed veterinarian. 

To select a dentist, veterinarian or non-veterinarian, besides evaluating the person’s credentials and educational background in this field, there are several important facts to consider. 

In many cases, a horse needs sedation, which is best performed by a licensed veterinarian. A veterinarian with at least eight years of higher education is the most capable person to understand the use of these powerful pharmacological drugs. And, in the event of an adverse reaction, a veterinarian can take steps to avoid a calamity. 

Also, most equine insurance companies will not pay out on medical or mortality clauses if a horse is medicated by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian. So, when using a lay dentist who works without the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, you are taking a gamble that everything will go as planned with no chance of a mishap.

Some dentistry cases require radiographs (X-ray films) to identify the nature of the problem, which is in the purview of a veterinarian. Some horses require pain management following procedures, or it might be necessary to have surgical procedures performed to address a problem. 

Again, the safest person to select appropriate pain-relieving medications or to perform surgery is a licensed veterinarian. 

Make sure that if you are using a lay dentist for the dental work that this person has a working relationship with a qualified veterinarian who can step in to perform these necessary procedures.

Two resources that can help in locating a qualified dentist or dental technician include:

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM