The practice of equine dentistry is opening up in Nevada, thanks to new regulations. At the end of February, the Legislative Commission approved revised regulations that allow equine dental providers to practice in the state. Previously, only licensed veterinarians or veterinary technicians supervised by a veterinarian could practice equine dentistry. The revisions allow for equine dental providers to work in Nevada, providing they register with the Nevada State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and are directly supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

Different states have different laws regarding who can practice equine dentistry. Some states allow anyone to perform equine dentistry, while others require practitioners to be a licensed veterinarian or vet technician. For decades, Nevada has been the latter. Until now, the handful of equine dental providers who live in Nevada have been forced to work outside the state. The State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is hopeful that the new regulations will benefit those providers and, ultimately, horse owners.  

“We want to make sure that they’re here and that they’re able to practice,” says Jennifer Pendigo, Executive Director of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. “Even though it’s a small group, it would impact horse owners and the public being able to access the services, especially in the rural areas where you don’t see a high concentration of practitioners.”

Zach Rhodes works on a horse. Photo courtesy Zach Rhodes.Not all equine dental providers are supportive of the change. Zach Rhodes, a certified equine dentist based in Reno, says the regulations still create a roadblock to practicing. In particular, he takes issue with the requirement that equine dental providers be under direct supervision of a veterinarian.

“I have over 350 hours of education and I do continuing education every year without being told to do so,” says Rhodes. “Most vets that I’ve talked to receive anywhere from six to twelve hours of education in equine dentistry through their four years of vet school, and sometimes it’s only offered as an elective. Them telling us that we require direct supervision for us to do our job is like asking a general practitioner to oversee what a human dentist does.”

Rhodes has been practicing equine dentistry for about seven years in California and Oregon, and is certified by the Texas Institute of Equine Dentistry and the International Association of Equine Dentistry. He says he would like a little more freedom to practice in his home state. “We would have rather had no direct supervision. We want to be recognized like farriers,” says Rhodes. “If you open the market up and you allow the good people like myself, who have been certified, to come in and work we can educate the public on what good dentistry is and what bad dentistry is.”

Most veterinarians support the revised regulations. “Let’s enable these people to work with veterinarians and provide greater care,” says Dr. Scott Greene, DVM. “It’s always been about providing the best possible care for the horse.” Dr. Greene has practiced in Nevada for 30 years and specializes in equine dentistry. He says equine dental providers have a lot of knowledge and skill to offer, but that a veterinarian’s presence is critical to providing holistic care of the horse.

“There’s a reason that equine dentistry is included as a part of veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Greene. “Providing proper, complete, annual maintenance in dental care is more than just filing off a few sharp points or bringing down a tall tooth.” He says sedation is crucial to keep the horse comfortable and allow the practitioner to do more in-depth work in the mouth. In addition, veterinarians can also prescribe medications if needed or treat other issues that are noticed during an exam.

Dr. Greene says he welcomes the collaborative opportunity between veterinarians and equine dental providers. “We can set up two stations in two stalls. We could have 20 horses to do. You do 10, I do 10. I come in between, I follow up on your exam, I sedate, I follow up on your exam after you’re done, administer anti-inflammatories, and make any other recommendations. It’s a big asset that the layman dental provider did not have before.”

Dr. Scott Greene works on a horse.

The Vet Board says their ultimate goal is protecting horse owners from malpractice. “If consumers were working with someone who wasn’t a veterinarian in Nevada on their animal and something did happen, we wouldn’t have been able to help them,” says Pendigo. “But now that we have this process where they’re registered with us, if the consumer has an issue they can come to us with that information and there are avenues for disciplinary action.”

The regulation may have passed, but Rhodes isn’t giving up the fight for more freedom. “We can try to make amendments to the regulation, so I think from here we just have to prepare for the 2019 session and get more horse owners involved,” he says. In the meantime, the Vet Board is getting ready to accept applications from equine dental providers who are interested in registering so they may practice in Nevada.

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Story by Samantha Szesciorka