Equine dentistry

Equine dentistry


Equine dentistry is a growing branch of veterinary medicine requiring knowledge, training and skills.

The NZVA, New Zealand Equine Veterinary Association and its dental subcommittee have developed two new position statements on equine dentistry. The position statements provide guidance for general practitioners about what is acceptable equine dentistry practice.

The NZVA believes that all dental procedures on equidae, including horses, should be performed by veterinarians and be based on sound scientific knowledge, evidence-based medicine and surgery, and best practice standards. This is to ensure horses’ welfare is protected, and that providers of dental care are held to account for services provided.

We acknowledge the current regulatory environment allows equine dental technicians (EDTs) to perform equine dental work. We have developed guidelines that recognise this.

It is critical that the veterinary profession understand their responsibility under the Code of Professional Conduct, when working with, or referring to another person. These expectations are set out in our position statements.

In the position statements, procedures considered appropriate for an EDT to perform on their own are outlined, as are those that need the supervision of a veterinarian, and those that are to be performed by a veterinarian only.

Our position and guidelines recognise that most equine dental procedures meet the new criteria outlined in the Animal Welfare Act Amendment Act (2015), section 16 (from May 2020). These criteria define significant surgical procedures.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, no person may perform any significant surgical procedure on an animal unless that person is -

a. a veterinarian; or
b. a person who is acting under the direct supervision of a veterinarian and who is being taught veterinary science at undergraduate level.

Status of equine dental technicians in New Zealand

Equine dental technicians in New Zealand are currently unregulated. They have widely varying levels of knowledge and skills. Some are equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to competently perform some equine dental procedures while others are not. This compromises horses’ welfare.

The NZVA recognises the service that is provided by EDTs and that of other allied veterinary paraprofessionals (AVPs). The NZVA supports the development of a regulatory framework to support AVPs ongoing contributions to the veterinary community. Regulation of AVPs is required and should include requirements for training, continuing professional development, minimum qualifications and a robust disciplinary process, such as that provided by the Veterinarians' Act.

Establishing a regulatory framework for AVPs, including EDTs, in New Zealand would bring this country into line with other similar developed nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Equine dentistry is a specialist area of veterinary medicine and all contributors should be appropriately educated and regulated.

Consultation on significant surgical procedures

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is currently undertaking public consultation on the types of procedures that should be regulated, based on the criteria that define a significant surgical procedure. If approved, these regulations will allow non-veterinarians to undertake specific significant surgical procedures.

MPI has put forward two options for equine dentistry that were developed after significant previous consultation, including with the NZVA. During this current round of consultation the public are referred to the NZVA equine dentistry guidelines (linked to above), so that the veterinary profession's position on equine dentistry is understood.

Option 1

A competent person may extract a loose deciduous incisor or cheek tooth from an equid. All other extractions, including wolf teeth, are veterinarian only as these require pain relief to be used at the time of the procedure. The owner or person in charge of the animal has responsibility to ensure that only competent people perform this procedure.

Option 2

A competent person may extract a finger loose deciduous incisor or cheek tooth that has obvious visual recession of the gingiva and is protruding above the occlusal surface, but may not use tools or other equipment. All other extractions, including wolf teeth, are veterinarian only as these require pain relief to be used at the time of the procedure. The owner or person in charge of the animal has responsibility to ensure that only competent people perform this procedure.

Our view

The NZVA supports Option 2, which we believe will ensure the best health and welfare outcomes for horses.

It is similar to Option 1 in that it limits non-veterinarians to the extraction of loose deciduous incisor or cheek teeth only. Unlike Option 1, it does not allow non-veterinarians to use tools or equipment in the extraction of deciduous incisor or cheek teeth. In practice this would mean straightforward, finger-loose tooth extractions could be performed by non-veterinarians but they would need to refer all other extractions (including wolf teeth) to a veterinarian. We believe this is appropriate as only a veterinarian with the right skills, training and knowledge is equipped to perform such a procedure in a way that upholds the highest standards of animal health and welfare. Owners and persons in charge of horses should be reminded that there is currently no registration body, association, or recognition of training levels or qualifications for persons advertising Equine Dental Technician services in New Zealand.

MPI consultation finishes on 24 July 2019.

The NZVA will be making a submission to MPI, and we would like to ensure the views of each NZVA special interest branch is well represented in our submission.

Please provide this information to the NZVA by 15 July so we have time to incorporate your views effectively into the our submission.

Individual members can also make their own submissions. However, ideally we would have a united front to present to MPI. Please get in touch at nzva@vets.org.nz if you have any queries or concerns regarding this process or the proposed regulations.

More information on the proposals, including the consultation document, can be found on the MPI website.  


Veterinarians with special interest in equine dentistry

The NZVA is putting together a list of veterinarians with postgraduate training in equine dentistry to help support members with their equine dental work. We will be in touch with members when this list is available. 

If you have postgraduate training in this area and would like to be included in this list please register your details with us at nzva@vets.org.nz. Please provide full contact details including confirmation of training.