News & Press: NZVA news

Equine dentistry position statements

Wednesday, 10 July 2019  
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Equine dentistry is a growing branch of veterinary medicine requiring specialist knowledge, training and skills. To help general practitioners the NZVA, New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association and its dental subcommittee have developed two new position statements on equine dentistry, which provide guidance for general practitioners about what is acceptable practice.

These positions, which are available to the public, seek to help to protect horses’ welfare, to uphold professional veterinary standards, and to protect owners of horses and other equidae. They also recognise that most equine dental procedures will meet the new criteria that define what constitutes a significant surgical procedure, as outlined in the Animal Welfare Act Amendment Act (2015), section 16, which will come into force from May 2020. The Ministry of Primary Industries is currently consulting publicly on proposed animal welfare regulations under the Act to ensure the right people with the right skills perform these procedures in the interests of animal welfare. One of these proposals relates to equine dentistry, and the NZVA will be making a submission on this in the coming weeks.

Underpinning NZVA’s positions and guidelines is the belief that all dental procedures involving equidae, including horses, should be performed by veterinarians and be based on sound scientific knowledge, evidence-based medicine and surgery, as well as best practice standards. This is to ensure horses’ welfare is protected, and that providers of dental care are held to account for services they provide.

We also acknowledge the current regulatory environment allows equine dental technicians (EDTs) to perform equine dental work. Our guidelines take account of this and in the interests of animal welfare specify the procedures the NZVA considers appropriate for EDTs to perform alone, and those they should perform under veterinary supervision.

EDTs have widely varying levels of knowledge and skills. Some are equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform some equine dental procedures competently while others are not. The latter can in some cases compromise horse welfare.

As a specialist area of veterinary medicine, equine dentistry should be appropriately regulated. In New Zealand, there is no specific regulatory oversight of equine dentistry service providers who are not veterinarians. There are no minimum training or qualification requirements for equine dental technicians, who, like all other allied veterinary paraprofessionals, are currently unregulated in New Zealand. There are also no requirements for continuing education and insufficient disciplinary processes to manage misconduct. For veterinarians this is achieved through compliance and enforcement of the Code of Professional Conduct, and the Veterinarians' Act (as well as other legislation). Prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 would be possible, as it is for any person in New Zealand, but it is not a useful regulatory tool for low-medium level offending.

The NZVA supports the development of a regulatory framework to support all allied veterinary paraprofessionals, including equine dental technicians, to ensure their ongoing contributions to the veterinary community, and to ensure that both the public interest and animal welfare are upheld.

Read the position statements

Further information

From May 2020, section 16 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, will use the following criteria to determine if a procedure is a significant surgical procedure:

“(a) whether the procedure has the potential to:
(i) cause significant pain or distress; or
(ii) cause serious or lasting harm, or loss of function, if not carried out by a veterinarian in accordance with recognised professional standards; and

(b) the nature of the procedure, including whether this involves:
(i) a surgical or operative procedure below the surface of the skin or mucous membranes, or below the gingival margin of teeth; or (ii) physical interference with sensitive soft tissue or bone structure; or (iii) significant loss of tissue or loss of significant tissue.”

Using these criteria, the NZVA believes most equine dentistry procedures are considered to be significant surgical procedures, and must only be performed by a veterinarian.