Texas reins in unlicensed horse dentists

Texas veterinary authorities are trying to rein in horse-teeth "floaters," claiming the unlicensed dental work poses a risk for horses, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.

The concern is patient safety, especially as equine dentistry has gone high-tech, with more floaters using motorized tools instead of metal files. The power tools make the work quicker, but may also make it easier to file away too much enamel and expose sensitive tissue, the Journal reported. In addition, some floaters administer sedatives to calm their patients, which veterinary authorities say poses a risk.

"We're very, very concerned about the harm that can be done to these magnificent animals," said Dewey Helcamp III, executive director of the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, in the Wall Street Journal story.

The board has ordered the unlicensed floaters to stop practicing or to work only under supervision of a licensed vet. About a dozen of the floaters have now quit, while others have gone underground, according to the Journal. Four have filed a suit accusing the board of violating the state constitution which, they say, protects their right to earn an honest living. The state is allowing the plaintiffs to keep working until the lawsuit is resolved.

States vary in their approach to floating. Arizona requires floaters to be certified by their trade association; Nebraska lets licensed vet techs do the work under supervision; and Maryland imposes no restrictions. Oklahoma last year made it a felony to float teeth without a veterinary license. Then, in March, authorities arrested rodeo star Bobby Griswold for performing illegal dental work on a horse. But outrage ensued, and the law was repealed.

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