Equine dentistry could become international veterinary specialty

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An international effort is under way to make equine dentistry a recognized specialty in North America and Europe and establish an equine dentistry specialty college.

The American Veterinary Dental College, European Veterinary Dental College, and Academy of Veterinary Dentistry announced the initiative this September. Veterinarians were contacted over the summer to gauge interest in the proposal and request nominations to the proposed college's organizing committee.

A veterinarian performs equine dentistry
A veterinarian performs equine dentistry using power equipment. (Courtesy of the Texas VMA)

Veterinary dentistry is recognized by the AVMA's American Board of Veterinary Specialties and by the European Board of Veterinary Specialties and Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. Certification in equine veterinary dentistry is offered by the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry and other organizations. However, these certification programs are not accredited by the ABVS, and certificate holders are not considered specialists in equine dentistry.

Supporters of the proposed specialty college believe its time has come, considering the importance of dental health to horse welfare and the discipline's evolution into a highly technical field. "What in many people's minds is limited to 'floating' of teeth by equine dental technicians is now known to be much more complex, with effects on the well-being and performance of the horse," said AVDC Executive Director Colin E. Harvey.

"Procedures originally developed by human dentists, and that have since been adapted by small animal veterinary dentists, such as endodontics treatment, are now being performed on horses," Harvey continued. "Periodontal disease—the most common disease in companion animals—also affects horses."

Many horses are now living 30 years and longer, and geriatric dental problems are more common, Harvey noted.

Additionally, an equine veterinary dental college would be an authoritative voice in the debate on whether to allow nonveterinarians to perform equine dental procedures, he added.

Currently, the ABVS recognizes 21 veterinary specialty organizations comprising 40 specialties. More than 10,000 veterinarians have been awarded diplomate status in one or more of these specialty organizations.

What in many people's minds is limited to 'floating' of teeth by equine dental technicians is now known to be much more complex, with effects on the well-being and performance of the horse.

Colin E. Harvey, Executive Director, American Veterinary Dental College

Numbers are important when trying to form a new specialty college. The ABVS and EBVS require that the pool of initial and potential diplomates for any proposed college be large enough to ensure the specialty's viability. Harvey expects that the number of veterinarians with the training and experience necessary for recognition as equine dental specialists will be limited at first. One possible solution that has been proposed is to establish a "supracontinental level" college to satisfy membership numbers

In this scenario, the ACVD and ECVD would submit a unified petition to the American and European veterinary specialty boards seeking approval for the international college. If the number of suitably qualified veterinarians identified during the preliminary stages is sufficient, separate petitions will be submitted to ABVS under the AVDC umbrella and to EBVS under the EVDC umbrella.

Harvey says the two colleges may also petition the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists for formation of an equine dental fellowship program as part of ANZCVSc.

"The bottom line is that under any scenario, there would be an ABVS-recognized college and an EBVS-recognized college, with the expectation that there would be diplomates in Europe and North America," he said. "That I am aware of, there is no reason why it could not be the same college, provided, of course, that it continues to meet the ABVS and EBVS reporting requirements to maintain its recognition by both recognition entities."

Harvey says it would "seem natural" for an intercontinental equine veterinary dental college to accept admission applications from veterinarians from other parts of the world.

At present, the three organizations are working on identifying veterinarians who meet ABVS and EBVS standards for membership in a specialty organizing committee and as potential charter diplomates. Once the committee members have been agreed on, work on a formal petition justifying the specialty will commence.

To learn more about the proposed equine dentistry specialty, visit the American Veterinary Dental College website at www.AVDC.org; the letter soliciting interest is available as a link from the AVDC home page or by clicking on avdc.org/July_2011_letter_inviting_interest_in_an_Equine_Veterinary_Dental_Specialty_College.pdf.