Equine Dental Technician Career Profile

Dr. Froenig checking out a horses's teeth after a round of grinding with his power float.
••• Pete Markham from Loretto, USA/Equine Dentistry/Wikimedia Commons

Dental health is just as important to animals as their physical well being. Routine dental care will help keep animals from developing issues like gum disease — which can lead to other health risks. That's why it's important for animal owners, including those who have horses, to consult with dental experts regularly to keep their animals' mouths healthy.

There are a series of people who work specifically with horses and dental care. Equine dental technicians are the people who coordinate with veterinarians to provide dental maintenance to the horses in their care.

Duties

An equine dental exam, including evaluation and treatment, takes about 45 minutes for the equine dental technician to complete.

The most common duty for an equine dental technician is known as “floating” a horse’s teeth. Floating is the removal of enamel points (sharp edges) on a tooth’s surface. If left untreated, these points may cause pain that could impact a horse’s feed intake and performance.

Additional duties may include tartar removal, assisting with tooth extractions and determining the age of a horse by the condition of its teeth.

Technicians must also keep accurate dental charts to record patient history and methods of treatment. Technicians are not authorized to provide sedation or surgery. In more complex cases where these procedures are required, a qualified veterinarian must perform the dental work.

The equipment used by an equine dental technician may include a variety of tools such as a mouth speculum, several different types of hand floats, hands-free headlamps for improvement of visibility, mirrored tools, motorized power tools, and other dental devices.

Employment in the field of equine dentistry can be physically demanding. The work occurs outdoors in variable weather conditions. There is also the inherent risk of working with large animals. Technicians should make safety a priority, and take advantage of stocks or holding areas to minimize the risk of injury from a kick or bite.

Training & Certification

The two most prominent membership groups for equine dental technicians are the International Association of Equine Dentistry and the American Veterinary Dental Society.

To be certified by the International Association of Equine Dentistry, a candidate must demonstrate their competence in the areas of dental anatomy, prophylaxis, and the ability to provide a full dental examination to a live subject while under the evaluation of a testing committee.

The Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry, which was founded in 2005, is a membership organization that is open to both veterinarians and ​dentistry technicians. This association offers a number of continuing education events and materials to its members.

There are several schools which teach equine dentistry to non-veterinarians and prepare their students for certification through the IAED examination process. The coursework for these programs generally includes anatomy of the equine head and neck, an overview of dental equilibration techniques, the study of tooth numbering, an overview of common problems, and opportunities for practical experience performing exams on live subjects. Most programs offer a few hundred hours of intensive experience spread over several weeks.

Schools that provide instruction to equine dentistry technicians include the American School of Equine Dentistry in Virginia, the Texas Institute of Equine Dentistry, the Midwest Equine Dental Academy in Michigan and the Academy of Equine Dentistry in Idaho.

It is also possible to become an apprentice to an experienced equine dentist and gain experience on the job. Many graduates of dentistry school programs choose to take an apprenticeship or intern position to gain experience after graduation.

It is important to note that laws regulating the performance of equine dental procedures by non-veterinarians vary from state to state. In many states, a veterinarian must be present to sedate horses and oversee work done by an equine dental technician. Technicians should be careful to observe all rules and regulations in the state where they are beginning their dentistry practice.

Salary

The salary of an independently employed equine dental technician can vary widely based on the number of horses examined per day. The average cost of a dental exam for a horse can range between $100 and $250. The technician may offer discounts if several horses are examined during one visit, as this saves time and travel expenses.

As of November 2018, SimplyHired.com cited the average salary range of an equine dentist as $62,895. The highest wages earned were roughly $131,400, while the lowest end of the spectrum was $30,104. Most equine dentistry schools state their graduates average at least $50,000 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a special category for equine dental technicians but does categorize veterinary technologists and technicians under one umbrella. According to the most recent data, techs in this category earned an average salary of $33,400 annually as of 2017. The highest 10% earned $49,350, while the lowest 10% earned $22,880.

When calculating their earnings, equine dental technicians must also factor in additional expenses such as the cost of a vehicle to visit their patients, the cost of gasoline and the purchase or repair of dental equipment. A good set of dental equipment can cost several thousand dollars.

Equine dentistry technicians in the employment of a veterinarian or veterinary clinic usually receive an hourly wage and benefits. Independent contractors do not have the steady income of an employee but have the advantage of setting their own hours and determining how many horses they will service per day.

Job Outlook

The number of horses kept both for sport and production has increased steadily over the past several decades, and owners have become increasingly aware of the need to provide regular dental care for their animals. That's why the job market for equine dental technicians is expected to show continued growth in years to come.

According to the BLS, the growth for jobs in the vet technologist and technician industry was expected to grow 20% between 2016 and 2016 — higher than the average occupation. The agency said this was due to an increase in the number of people owning animals and because of the higher amount of spending in the animal industry.