Horse owners later this year will have the freedom to choose who can work on their horses’ teeth and equine dentists will be able to practice in the state without fear of facing a criminal charge. Gov. Brad Henry on Friday signed a bill that allows equine dentists — commonly called horse teeth floaters — to practice without being arrested. The Oklahoma Farm Bureau backed House Bill 3202 while most veterinarians opposed it. The state’s veterinary board has said 353 of 1,807 veterinarians practice equine dentistry in Oklahoma. It’s estimated there are about 30 equine dentists in the state. Rep. Don Armes, author of HB 3202, said the measure ensures equine dentists can work in the state. "I don’t think the government owes anybody a living, but I think it owes everybody a chance,” said Armes, R-Faxon. "This gives some good people a chance to work. If you’re proficient in your craft, whatever that is, that you’ll make a living.”
Concerns surviveRep. Lee Denney, a veterinarian who voted against the measure, said she was disappointed the governor signed the bill. She said the measure also exempts animal husbandry practices from being a veterinary practice. Oklahomans will be vulnerable to "people illegally practicing veterinary medicine,” said Denney, R-Cushing. "I’m also worried that this will allow prescription drugs more of an opportunity to get in the hands of people that are unauthorized to use them,” she said. Denney said the bill could jeopardize the future of veterinarians who work on livestock in the state. "Veterinarians protect our food supply, and when we don’t protect their scope of practice, we’re not going to have large animal veterinarians in this state,” she said. Armes said the bill is a victory for horse owners because it gives them the freedom to decide how to treat their horses. "A horse is property, it’s an animal,” Armes said. "We’ve got to have the right to go have these animals taken care of as we see fit.” The governor’s approving the bill ends a spat that began in last year’s legislative session. Teeth floating was a practice unknown to many legislators until horse owners showed up last year at the state Capitol. They were upset legislators had passed a law in 2008 that included a provision making equine dentistry a felony. Lawmakers last session reduced the offense to a misdemeanor for equine dentists to work on horses unless they are under the supervision of veterinarians, or are themselves veterinarians or veterinarian technicians. HB 3202 will take effect in late August, or 90 days after legislators adjourn this year session. Adjournment is set for May 28. The bill removes the practice of equine dentistry from a veterinary procedure to an animal husbandry act. The state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department would enforce whether equine dentists are complying with the law. "Cross jurisdiction will be very confusing,” Denney said.
Qualifying to workUnder the bill, the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners will certify equine dentists if they have at least 80 hours of training from recognized schools. Equine dentists will be certified annually as nonveterinary equine dental care providers. They will be charged a $200 certification fee and will be required to have four hours of continued education to have the certification renewed. If prescription drugs are to be used in the dental procedure, the owner of the horse or equine dentist must buy them from a veterinarian, according to the bill. Equine dentists may pick up widely prescribed sedatives from only veterinarians and only when owners order them. "There’s no difference in that than you going to the pharmacy for your little neighbor lady who’s homebound,” Armes said.