Oklahoma equine dentistry bill approved

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An Oklahoma bill signed into law April 16 by the governor establishes a certification mechanism for "nonveterinary" dental providers. It also allows these trained laypersons to perform teeth floating on horses and other livestock and removes "animal husbandry" from the definition of veterinary medicine.

The AVMA and Oklahoma VMA opposed the bill and repeatedly urged the governor to veto it.

Under the provisions of House Bill 3202, the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners will certify individuals as nonveterinary equine dental care providers if they have at least 80 hours of training from recognized schools. They will be charged a $200 certification fee and are required to have four hours of continuing education each year for certification renewal.

When prescription drugs are used in a dental procedure, the horse's owner or the nonveterinary equine dental care provider must buy them from a veterinarian, according to the law. It also prohibits prescription drugs from being prescribed, dispensed, or administered without a veterinarian-client-patient relationship between the owner and veterinarian.

In an April 13 letter to Gov. Brad Henry, the AVMA expressed concern that the law allows for laypersons to administer veterinary medications without direct veterinary oversight.

"Veterinarians possess the knowledge necessary to administer the medications at the correct dosages, use the appropriate routes of administration, safely monitor animals while they are under the effects of the drugs, and immediately address potentially devastating or fatal side effects or adverse reactions," according to the letter signed by AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven.

"Improper use of veterinary medications, particularly sedatives, can present a significant risk of injury to animals and their human handlers. In addition, several of the most commonly used tranquilizers for sedating horses prior to teeth floating, such as xylazine and detomidine, can produce severe reactions—including death—when inadvertently or intentionally administered to humans, even in small doses."

H.B. 3202 also changes the practice of equine dentistry and animal husbandry from a veterinary procedure to an animal husbandry act. The state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department will enforce compliance with the law.

The AVMA said establishing an animal husbandry exemption and allowing nonveterinarians to perform equine dentistry would place Oklahoma well outside the mainstream of veterinary practice acts.

"We are concerned about HB 3202 being used as a precedent for similar laws in other states," according to the letter.

Oklahoma passed a law two years ago that made lay equine dentistry a felony. The penalty was reduced this past year to a misdemeanor after individuals who had performed dental flotation were arrested and horse owners complained. H.B. 3202 was the latest legislative incarnation to deal with the issue.

Some other states also allow nonveterinarians to perform equine dental work, generally with additional conditions such as veterinary supervision.

In addition to Oklahoma, four states exempt equine teeth floating from the practice of veterinary medicine, although it appears that those exemptions are limited to using nonmotorized tools, a restriction not included in the Oklahoma legislation.