Dental scaling now a veterinary procedure in California

Regulations clarified, scaling illegal for unlicensed persons
Published on December 15, 2011
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Posted Nov. 30, 2011

The California Veterinary Medical Board voted unanimously Oct. 17 in favor of a regulatory amendment prohibiting unlicensed persons from using dental scalers to clean pet teeth.

When the new regulation takes effect in 2012, the California Veterinary Medical Board will have greater enforcement authority over pet groomers and other laypersons using scalers to clean teeth.

For years, the California VMA has argued that only licensed professionals are qualified to clean animal teeth with scalers, lobbying state officials since 2004 to include scalers in regulations governing the scope of veterinary practice in California.

"We consider the use of a scaler as the practice of veterinary medicine. It's just that simple," explained CVMA President Jay Kerr, a small animal practitioner in the San Francisco Bay area.

dental scaling
Only veterinary professionals have the appropriate training to ensure safe and effective dental
scaling during dental procedures, according to the California VMA.

Veterinary dentistry is defined as the "application or use of any instrument or device" for animal dental operations. The CVMA has always believed that this definition includes the use of dental scalers, but that interpretation was disputed on the grounds that the regulations didn't expressly restrict the use of scalers to veterinarians. As a result, laypersons in California have been providing dental scaling services for cats and dogs without veterinary supervision.

The regulatory amendment passed by the state veterinary medical board clearly designates the use of scalers as being within the practice of veterinary medicine. Cotton swabs, gauze, dental floss, dentifrice, and toothbrushes are still permissible for use by nonveterinarians.

Few state laws specifically address who can legally use scalers to clean animal teeth, according to Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs. The procedure is generally believed to be incorporated in the definition of veterinary medicine, Hochstadt said, although persons who scale or clean animal teeth in Maryland are exempt from the practice of veterinary medicine.

The American Veterinary Dental College opposes the practice of laypersons performing dental scalings because, according to the specialty college, the animal must be anesthetized for the procedure to be safe and proper. "Even slight head movement by the patient could result in injury to oral tissues of the patient, and the operator may be bitten when the patient reacts," according to an AVDC position statement on nonprofessional scaling performed on companion animals.

"I would argue it's about protecting pets from harm. Should people be using a dental scaler—in other words, a sharp, metal instrument—without training and veterinary supervision?"
Dr. Jay Kerr, California VMA president
 Dr. Kerr says efforts to clarify who can legally use a scaler to clean pet teeth in California are part of a broader CVMA initiative aimed at ending the illegal practice of veterinary medicine in the state: the Illegal Practice Campaign.

Earlier this year, the association published results from a survey of California veterinarians and veterinary technicians about the topic. Of the 1,524 respondents, 79 percent said they were aware of the illegal practice of veterinary medicine in their area. The types of unlicensed practice most commonly identified were anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, chiropractic, and vaccinating.

To help rein unlicensed veterinary practice, the CVMA is backing a measure in the state Senate that would grant the Veterinary Medical Board greater enforcement powers. Senate Bill 697 would not only more clearly define the scope of veterinary practice in California but also make it a misdemeanor to ignore citations by the board.

Dr. Kerr rejects criticisms the CVMA is trying to protect veterinarians against competition in the pet services market. "I would argue it's about protecting pets from harm," he said. "Should people be using a dental scaler—in other words, a sharp, metal instrument—without training and veterinary supervision?"