Name: Miriam Casey
Degree and university: Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, 2004.
Location: near Bristol
Work Title: Veterinary Surgeon. Miriam is currently undergoing specialist training in equine dental disease in the form of a postgraduate clinical training programme, which is funded by The Horse Trust. The programme, which is based at the University of Bristol, involves 36 months of clinical and research work, and will result in Miriam becoming one of the few equine dental specialists in the UK. Currently there are only 11 veterinary surgeons with specialist dental qualifications.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in equine dentistry? After qualifying as a vet in 2004, I worked in various equine practices. While working in these practices, I saw many horses whose dental problems were having a big impact on their welfare. For example, I saw elderly ponies that couldn’t chew their food properly and were literally starving to death.
Despite the big impact of dental problems on horses, I saw there wasn’t much research being done in this area. I decided that pursuing a career in equine dentistry would give me a massive opportunity to impact the health and welfare of horses.
I am very grateful to The Horse Trust for funding this clinical scholarship. It has not only given me the opportunity to specialise in an area that I am passionate about, but has also helped me impact the welfare of many horses, both directly as an equine dentist, and through my research and teaching work.
How does equine dentistry compare to human dentistry? Horses have totally different teeth to humans and many pets. Horses’ teeth have evolved over millions of years to spend up to 20 hours a day chewing on plants. Domesticated horses don’t feed in the same way any more, so can develop sharp overgrowths on their teeth that stick into their cheeks and tongue and cause discomfort. If these sharp points aren’t treated regularly, the horse may drop its food and lose weight.
In the wild, the dental condition of horses is a major factor impacting their lifespan. Domesticated horses live longer than wild horses so we have to improve their dental care and feeding regimes to make sure their teeth stay in good condition as long as possible.
Equine dentistry is far behind the dental care that humans receive at the moment. But lots of people are working hard to develop a knowledge base so equine dental science can catch up.
What are you currently doing? I am currently following a 36 month clinical training programme that has been funded by The Horse Trust. The programme includes a mix of clinical, research and teaching work.
About 60 percent of my time is spent on the clinical side – I work at the University of Bristol equine referral hospital in Langford, Somerset. Dental cases referred to the hospital by vets include horses with periodontal disease, tooth root abscesses, broken teeth, and sinusitis. I’m also on call a lot – I’m on call one weekend in four, and one in four nights.
I also help out at The Horse Trust’s sanctuary in Buckinghamshire. Staff at the sanctuary refer horses to me that are losing weight or dropping food and I examine the horses to see what is causing the problem.
The other 40 percent of my time is spent doing research work and teaching veterinary students. I am currently researching the link between dental disease and colic, and trying to understand the best ways of diagnosing pulpitis – where the pulp within a horse’s tooth becomes infected.
Describe to me a typical day My days involve a mix of clinical, research and teaching work. The morning might be spent examining and treating a horse, or doing research work, while the afternoon might be spent with veterinary students showing them how to treat various dental conditions.
What are the best and worst parts of your job? I enjoy working with students and other vets and teaching them about equine dentistry. In the clinic, it’s very rewarding to see a horse gain weight and have more energy after being treated. It was exciting last year when I found out something new through my research. I can’t think of any worst part!
Are there any perks to your job? I have had the opportunity to meet experts in various fields of veterinary science and dentistry when presenting my research at conferences. Being able to learn from dental specialists from all over world has been great.
Are there many female equine dentists, and if not, why not? Equine veterinary and dentistry is still a male dominated environment, but nor for long; More women are getting into it all the time. You need to be fit and healthy to work with horses, but you don’t need much physical strength.
What are you plans for the future? When I finish the clinical training scholarship, there is an exciting area of my research that I would like to pursue. I feel that the biggest impact I can have on equine welfare is to continue researching, but it isn’t easy to get funding for this. I also enjoy the teaching side and would like to continue doing some clinical work.
What advice can you offer someone who wants to become an Equine Dentist? Equine dentistry is an emerging field, so there are a growing number of courses available. The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) organise internationally renowned courses in equine dentistry for vets at graduate, basic and advanced levels, which would be an excellent starting point. The British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT), which is for non-veterinarians, can also organise courses.
What skills and qualifications do people need to have to do equine dentistry?
You need good equine vet skills and good communication skills – a lot of the job involves talking to vets and horse owners. While all veterinarians are legally able to perform invasive dental procedures in animals, those entering the field undertake postgraduate courses to supplement their skills.
There are various qualifications you could go for. Hitherto there have been no specialist qualifications in equine veterinary dentistry. However, the Royal College of Veterinary surgeons is currently developing a postgraduate qualification for veterinary surgeons in equine dentistry. There is an exam in the theory and non-invasive techniques of equine dentistry run by BVDA and BEVA, which is open to non-veterinarians who wish to become Equine Dental Technicians, enabling them to perfom limited non-invasive procedures. .