Veterinary dentistry

Veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery are part of the practice of veterinary medicine and are regarded as such under state veterinary practice acts. Veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery include the cleaning, adjustment, filing, extraction, or repair of animals' teeth and all other aspects of oral health care in animals. Veterinary dentistry is a function of veterinary practice because it requires diagnosis and treatment, and, to be fully effective, demands extensive knowledge of anatomy, anesthesiology, pharmacology, physiology, pathology, radiology, neurology, medicine, and surgery that is part of the graduate veterinarian's training.

Supporting statements

  • Veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery are invasive practices that can have a profound impact on animal health.
  • Veterinarians receive training in dentistry as part of the curriculum of colleges of veterinary medicine.
  • Veterinarians are uniquely qualified to diagnose, by physical examination and use of diagnostics, to address unexpected conditions or complications discovered during oral and dental examinations and procedures and to prescribe follow-up care.
  • The current AAHA-AVMA Canine Preventive Healthcare Guidelines and AAHA-AVMA Feline Preventive Healthcare Guidelines both include dental care as part of the assessment during annual veterinary examinations. The veterinarian should perform an oral examination on all animals at least yearly and discuss preventive measures to keep a patient's mouth healthy.
  • When procedures such as periodontal probing, intraoral radiography, dental scaling, and dental extraction are justified by the oral examination, they should be performed under anesthesia. Unless otherwise indicated, these procedures should be performed under standing sedation in large animal patients with appropriate pain control provided.
  • In regards to equine dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery, "procedures which are invasive of the tissues to the oral cavity including, but not limited to, removal of sharp enamel points, treatment of malocclusions of premolars, molars, and incisors, odontoplasty, the extraction of first premolars and deciduous premolars and incisors, extraction of damaged or diseased teeth, treatment of diseased teeth via restorations and endodontic procedures, periodontal and orthodontic treatments, dental radiography and endoscopy of the oral cavity are veterinary dental procedures and should be performed by a licensed veterinarian."[1]
  • Other species have oral and dental needs that are also included in the practice of veterinary medicine.
  • Veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery are dependent on correct diagnosis of dental disease, as well as the recognition of other serious diseases that can mimic dental problems in animals. These include, but are not limited to, zoonotic (e.g., rabies) and reportable (e.g., vesicular stomatitis) diseases.
  • Sedatives, tranquilizers, anesthetics, or analgesics are commonly used during veterinary dental procedures to provide restraint and reduce animal pain and suffering. Visual or radiographic recognition of oral or dental pathology and accurate assessment of periodontal health by probing of pockets require sedation or anesthesia. An endotracheal tube is to be placed to protect the lungs from the water droplets generated during ultrasonic dental scaling or when a high-speed dental unit is used. Preoperative sedation, intra-operative local or regional analgesia, and post-operative analgesics are used as indicated to reduce the dose of anesthetic agent required and ensure a smooth, pain-free recovery period. Federal law restricts such veterinary prescription drugs for use by, or on the order of, a licensed veterinarian to ensure their safe and effective use and avoid human misappropriation.
  • The field of veterinary dentistry is advanced through the conduct of clinical and experimental oral and dental research; these studies permit use of an evidence-based approach to veterinary oral and dental clinical decision making.
  • Veterinary state boards and state veterinary practice acts exist to establish veterinarian accountability and provide clients with an acceptable standard of care.
  • Dental extractions require veterinary expertise for diagnostic evaluation of the extent of disease and selection of the most appropriate technique to complete the extraction as efficiently as possible.

Concluding statements

Veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery are, therefore, to be performed by licensed veterinarians in accordance with their state veterinary practice act. Appropriately trained veterinary healthcare workers may be allowed to perform certain non-surgical oral and dental procedures only under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian in accordance with state regulations.

As with other areas of veterinary practice, veterinary dentistry, oral medicine, and oral surgery require a veterinarian-client-patient relationship to protect the health, safety, and welfare of animals.

[1] Excerpt from AAEP Position on Equine Dentistry (2019), used with permission.