What Does an Equine Dental Technician Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shoes a woman performing a dental exam on a horse. Text reads:

Image by Melissa Ling © The Balance 2019

Dental health is just as important to animals as their physical wellbeing. Routine dental care prevents animals from developing issues like gum disease, which can lead to other health risks. Some people work specifically with horses and dental care. Equine dental technicians coordinate with veterinarians to provide dental maintenance to horses.

Equine Dental Technician Duties & Responsibilities

An equine dental exam, including evaluation and treatment, takes about 45 minutes. An equine dental technician will complete various tasks in the process.

  • Floating the teeth: The most common duty for an equine dental technician is known as “floating” a horse’s teeth. Floating removes enamel points and sharp edges on a tooth’s surface. These points can cause pain that can impact a horse’s feed intake and performance if left untreated.
  • Tartar removal: An equine dental technician will assist veterinarians with tooth extractions and determining the age of a horse by the condition of its teeth.
  • Keeping charts: Technicians must also keep accurate dental charts to record patient history and methods of treatment.

    Technicians aren't authorized to provide sedation or perform surgery. A licensed veterinarian must perform dental work in more complex cases where these procedures are required.

    Equine Dental Technician Salary

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't have a special category for equine dental technicians. It categorizes veterinary technologists and technicians under one umbrella.

    • Median Annual Salary: $34,420 ($16.55/hour)
    • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $50,010 ($24.04/hour)
    • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $23,490 ($11.29/hour)

    Equine dental technicians must factor in additional expenses when calculating their earnings, 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 equine dental equipment can cost several thousand dollars. It includes 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.

    Education, Training & Certification

    Both education and certification are necessary to enter this field.

    • Education: Several schools teach equine dentistry to non-veterinarians and prepare their students for certification through the International Association of Equine Dentistry (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.
    • Certification: The two most prominent membership groups for equine dental technicians are the IAED and the American Veterinary Dental Society. Certification by the IAED requires that candidates demonstrate their competence in the areas of dental anatomy, prophylaxis, and show an ability to provide a full dental examination to a live subject while under the evaluation of a testing committee.
    • Continuing Education: The Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry, founded in 2005, is a membership organization that's open to both veterinarians and ​dentistry technicians. This association offers a number of continuing education events and materials to its members.

      Laws regulating the performance of equine dental procedures by non-veterinarians can vary from state to state. a veterinarian must be present to sedate horses and oversee work done by an equine dental technician in many states.

      Equine Dental Technician Skills & Competencies

      You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming an equine dental technician.

      • Strength and physical fitness: You must control and manage horses that weigh thousands of pounds.
      • Manual Dexterity: You'll be performing intricate dental work, sometimes with delicate equipment.
      • Communication skills: You must convey treatment options to owners and barn staff, as well as supervisors if you work for a clinic rather than for yourself.
      • Compassion: Sometimes these horses are hurting, so they won't be on their best behavior. Their owners and caretakers might be stressed and worried. You should be able to handle all this with patience and kindness.
      • Detail-oriented: You'll have to maintain accurate records without overlooking anything.

      Job Outlook

      The job market for equine dental technicians is expected to show continued growth in years to come. 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.

      The growth for jobs in the vet technologist and technician industry is expected to grow 20% between 2016 and 2026—higher than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is partially due to an increased amount of spending in the animal industry.

      Work Environment

      Employment in the field of equine dentistry can be physically demanding. Some work takes place outdoors in variable weather conditions, and even indoors, some barns can be cold and uncomfortable. There's also the inherent risk of working with large animals. Technicians should make safety a priority and take advantage of stocks or other holding areas to minimize the risk of injury from kicks or bites.

      Work Schedule

      It's not uncommon for an equine dentist to work weekends, holidays, and evenings. When an emergency happens, you must be there to help the horse. Self-employed dentists have more control over their non-emergency working hours, however. They might not enjoy the steady income of an employee, but they have the advantage of setting their own hours and determining how many horses they'll service each day.

      How to Get the Job

      CHOOSE A REPUTABLE SCHOOL

      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.

      GAIN HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE THROUGH AN APPRENTICESHIP

      It's possible to become an apprentice to an experienced equine dentist so you can gain experience on the job. Many graduates of dentistry school programs choose to take an apprenticeship or intern position to gain experience after graduation.

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