Can dentists treat animals, and what are the rules on assistance dogs?

What are the dento-legal implications of treating animals?

At the DDU, we occasionally hear of cases where dentists have been asked to treat animals. Unsurprisingly, there are some dento-legal implications to bear in mind.

Section 19 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 allows animals to be treated by registered dental practitioners at the request of a registered vet. This is generally related to circumstances where the vet may require the specialist skills of the practitioner. The British Veterinary Dental Association (BVDA) says, "As solely a BDS dentist, you may legally only provide dental treatment to an animal under the authority and guidance of a vet."

It is contrary to section 19(1) of the Act for a dentist to treat an animal without being supervised by a vet. Anyone who does so could be liable to a fine of up to £100, and could also face a criminal conviction. It's unlikely, but if you were to go it alone and treat a pet, it would almost certainly be viewed dimly by the GDC and could put your registration at risk.

Veterinary dentists

To treat an animal without veterinary supervision, you will need to be on the register of veterinary surgeons or the supplementary veterinary register. For example some dentists who are dual qualified and hold a veterinary medicine and surgery degree work as veterinary specialists.

The BVDA advises those interested in becoming dual qualified as a veterinary dentist that further training and CPD are required to provide the missing link between a dental and veterinary qualification. It explains: "There are numerous species differences and one cannot simply apply human dentistry to other species."

Assistance dogs

A more usual animal related query the DDU receives from members is about what steps they need to take to accommodate patients with an assistance dog. This includes not only guide or hearing dogs but also dogs helping patients with other conditions. While many dogs receive specific training, it should be noted that some assistance dogs can be owner selected and trained.

Under equality and discrimination law, reasonable adjustments should be made to ensure access to dental treatment facilities for patients with assistance dogs. With areas of the practice that are off limits due to infection control or health and safety issues, alternative support will be required for the patient and a suitable location found for the assistance dog to be left safely.

You can see further advice on this issue in our journal.

This page was correct at publication on 24/01/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Debbie Herbst

by Debbie Herbst Dento-legal adviser

Debbie Herbst qualified from the Royal Dental Hospital in 1985 and gained further qualifications in public health, and community dental health. She spent 22 years working in salaried dental services, latterly as a senior dental officer in dental public health. She also held roles as trainer/coordinator for child dental health surveys in the Yorkshire region, BDA accredited representative, and clinical representative on the BDA's Central Committee for Community and Public Health Dentistry. She joined the DDU in 2007 and spent five years as a senior dental claims handler before transferring to the dental advisory department in 2013.