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Q: What is the Difference between a Veterinary Equine Dentist and a veterinarian who does equine dentistry?

The answer would be the same as the difference between your dentist and your general care physician. Both are medical professionals, but their training is very different based on the medical focus they have selected.

When you walk into your family practitioner's office you don't see equipment specialized for human dentistry. Your doctor looks in your mouth, looks at your tonsils and overall health, but will send you to a dentist for the proper oral health care

A graduate veterinarian has the license to practice medicine, surgery and dentistry in all animal species. All of this training for all of these species of animals is done in four years. This means that they've usually learned a little knowledge about a great deal of subjects, dentistry included. They may specialize in large animal medicine and perhaps take a course in dentistry after college, but as with human dentistry, there is more to learn than this short time would allow. This is a veterinarian who does equine dentistry as part of his general equine practice.

A veterinary equine dentist is a graduate veterinarian who has, post graduation, pursued in depth study of dentistry for the horse. As with a human dentist, the continuing education, the money for specialized equipment and the experience that develops the expertise is focused into this one area ………. equine dentistry.

As one veterinary dentist put it, "I believe that it is unrealistic to expect an equine veterinarian to be an expert in all aspects of the field. The knowledge base is far too extensive and growing constantly. The improved health and performance that a veterinarian with specialized training can bring your horse through proper dental care, is impressive. You will see and feel the difference." I would add to her comment, so will your horse. (Well put, Mary!)

The work environment of an equine veterinarian who has focused solely on equine dentistry should also reflect that investment.

What do they have for equipment? (See our section on Equipment) Ask what they do for their training and continuing education? How did they learn to use the equipment they use? How well do they explain the reasons behind what they do and what are they are showing you in the mouth? Do they have the capability to do diagnostic radiography?

We often get comments that, "well, my horse isn't having any problems; I'll just have my regular vet (or technician) take care of his teeth". With all due respect to many great general practitioners, having less than an experienced equine dentist will miss conditions that most likely will become apparent in the future.

Missed conditions continue to be or will become performance problems, eating problems, and often expensive problems in the future. There is no such thing as a "cheaper or quicker" way to shortcut such an important health care practice.

We have found that many malocclusions (poor meeting of the teeth) are being missed and continue to create performance problems and the horse is being blamed for the "misbehaving". However, most of the horses we see are fat and healthy and often performing well. But fat and healthy on the outside is not a true indication of what is going on the inside. Problems, that start out little, don't get better on their own, they only get worse.

As one client put it, "with what the local vets charge for a float, I would much rather use someone that specializes in teeth for the same amount and have it done properly. I'm sure you know a lot of vets really don't enjoy doing teeth, so the horse just doesn't get what they need ….. although the owner thinks they do." "Best be safe than sorry". (Mellisa W., 2007)

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