I just spent a week at AAHA headquarters and also had the opportunity to speak at the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association Big Ideas Forum. The issue they were chewing on (forgive me, I couldn't waste the opportunity) was "Veterinary Dentistry: Is there a Standard of Care?" (perfect since the revision of the AAHA Dental Care Guidelines was released in April). This timely topic was passionately debated and discussed with more than 100 people who voiced a wide variety of opinions on what an appropriate dental procedure actually entails.

Some of the most widely shared concerns were those regarding equine dentistry. I thought the small-animal people were passionate about proper dental training--we should definitely include the equine practitioners in this group of activists. Drs. Bruce P. Whittle and Scott Marx discussed the problems in equine dentistry with Non-Veterinarian Dental Care Providers (NVDCPs). These are lay people with a limited amount of knowledge and limited training who are providing dental care, including odontoplasty and occlusal adjustments. They often call themselves Equine DDS or lay dentists, but they do not have the rigorous academic training of undergraduate, veterinary school, and postgraduate training that a real equine dentist (i.e. a DVM) has accomplished.

But this is not something new:

Animal dentistry is unpopular...because it is regarded as of minor importance in the veterinary colleges and by the better class of veterinary practitioners, who willingly stigmatize animal dentistry as an unimportant "side issue" by relegating dental operations to the student, the assistant, the stable-helper, the horseshoer, or the horse dentist.

This is precisely the status of animal dentistry today. The veterinarian consigns dental operations to others because it is rather beneath the dignity of the learned veterinarian...animal dentistry is regarded as a trifling accomplishment that the uneducated can master.

--Veterinary Surgery by Louis A. Merillat, V.S. Volume 1, 1905

Both Whittle and Marx described the passivity of our profession, including our state boards of veterinary medicine, in allowing NVDCPs to perform dental procedures. Who knew that in some states just anyone could "do dentals" on a horse? That seems frightfully wrong and there were some horror stories to go along with it. Thank goodness there are people like Gary Goldstein at the University of Minnesota teaching the proper techniques.

How long will it be before we reach the tipping point where it is understood that teeth are living parts of the body and must be treated with the same appreciation as other organ systems?

Comments (2) -

Wendy Hauser, DVM
Wendy Hauser, DVMUnited States
5/31/2013 6:50:22 AM #

I had the privilege of attending Colorado's Big Ideas Forum.  I agree with Dr. Knutson in that the equine veterinarians face many challenges.  One of the challenges presented was that many equine veterinarians do not want to or are not adequately trained to perform dental procedures on equids.  As I listened to presentations from diplomats of the dental college regarding small animal dental care, I found interesting parallels.  How many of our colleagues are dismissive of the new AAHA dental guidelines because they don't see value in additional training and developing new techniques?  Will small animal veterinarians allow dentistry to fall into the hands of non-veterinarian dental care providers? Haven't we already with the anesthesia free "dentals"?  I challenge all practitioners to be proactive, read the guidelines and embrace them!

karyn gavzer
karyn gavzerUnited States
7/1/2013 9:44:53 AM #

Dear Dr. Knutson,  Your message on equine and pet dentistry seems one that could adapted for the general public and shared via social media.  I was really impressed that AAHA, through your participation, took part in the BlogPaws conference. Hopefully, it will pave the way for veterinarians to work with bloggers on pet stories that will benefit pets, owners, vets and educate the public. Thank you for all you do to promote the profession! - Karyn Gavzer

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