How Minnesota drowns would-be horse teeth floaters in excessive licensing laws

In 2006, the Institute Justice published a report titled “The land of 10,000 lakes drowns entrepreneurs in regulations“. This report detailed just how the state of Minnesota prevents people from entering some occupations by placing high entry requirements. In particular, the report detailed occupation licensing laws in 11 occupations; sign hangers, horse teeth floaters, taxicabs, household good movers, manicurists, estheticians, cosmetologists, barbers, flower vendors, mobile food card vendors, and plumbers.

One occupation that stood out as having the most restrictions in the report was horse teeth floating. Horse teeth continuously grow, and they require floating. Floating is the practice of filling down of sharp points of the tooth to make them flat for more efficient chewing.

Horse teeth floating is “a manual skill that can be learned with hands-on training and a basic understanding of horse skull anatomy”. While the practice has definitely evolved since the report came out, the basic idea of the job is still the same. However, you would not know that by looking at the myriad of rules that applicants have to follow.

Horse teeth floating licensing

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine regulates teeth floating. Therefore to legally practice horse teeth filling, an individual can either (1) become a licensed veterinarian or (2) follow the rules under Minn.Stat.156.075.

Veterinary school is very costly, takes time, and may not include horse teeth filling. Therefore Minnesota Statue is the only way to go for most applications. And according to  the Minnesota law,

(a) A person may perform equine teeth floating services after submitting to the board the following:

(1) proof of current certification from the International Association of Equine Dentistry or other professional equine dentistry association as determined by the board; and

(2) a written statement signed by a supervising veterinarian experienced in large animal medicine that the applicant will be under direct or indirect supervision of the veterinarian when floating equine teeth.

(b) The board must waive the requirement in paragraph (a), clause (1), and allow a person to perform equine teeth floating services if the person provides satisfactory evidence of being actively engaged in equine teeth floating for at least ten of the past 15 years and has generated at least $5,000 annually in personal income from this activity.

There are so many things to unpack here but let’s look at (b) for example. It should be common sense that you can rarely find an entry-level horse teeth filler with 15 years of experience. This, therefore, leaves (1) and (2) as the option of choice. But the law has even more obstacles for this path.

First, new applicants have to go through the supervision of experienced veterinarians. This in itself an incentive for anti-competitive behavior. New applicants are future competition for current veterinarians. And the law in this case gives incumbents so much power to decide the fate of new entrants. But even if one is successful in getting a letter, getting certified by a private certification program is no walk in the park.

Private Program Certification

For so long, the board only recognized the International Association of Equine Dentistry (IAED) as the only acceptable private certification program. And to be certified by the IAED, someone must pass a practical exam. And once again, Minnesota does not allow any persons to practice horse teeth filling without getting licensed. This leaves applicants with one option; to go out to states that do not regulate the practice.

But even after obtaining experience to actually get a test one must be a member of IAED for 9 months and also be sponsored by an existing IAED-certified member. But to sponsor someone an IAED member must take a look and evaluate the candidate’s work. This once again leaves applicants at the mercy of their competition. Worse yet, IEAD is an international organization with few or no members in the state of Minnesota.

This process sounds even more bewildering when you realize that Minnesota does not regulate the dehorning of cattle, and goats or the castration of swine, goats, and sheep, or the docking of sheep. But if this was a matter of safety, these standards would apply to those other occupations.

Horse teeth floating now

It has been years since this report came out. However not much has changed with this law. In fact, the only thing that the Veterinarian Board has done is to approve 4 more private certification programs that applicants can go through. However, these are not more welcoming.

The Academy of Equine Dentistry, for example, has a 5-level course (two weeks for each level) program that costs well over $12,000. Students take an exam to advance to the next level of the program. Repetition of any level costs even extra money.  The Equine Gnathological Training Institute in Idaho has a 6-session program that costs at least $12,000 for someone who has to go through the entire program. And the Equine Dental Providers of American do not offer training to applicants, only continuing education. 

This is not about safety

If licensing was about safety and quality; we would see more uniform standards among similar occupations. And additionally, we would see rules providing more flexibility in how people attain experience. However, most of these rules are characterized by arbitrariness as to how they are enforced or even written. And furthermore, they require applicants to spend so much money to go through the process. This is a big barrier to entry. And it should tell you, that it has little to do with consumer safety and quality.