EQUINE DENTISTRY: THE BASICS
Why is regular equine dental care so important?
An adult horse has 36-40 teeth. Unlike humans, horses have hypsodont teeth, which means that they continue to erupt throughout the horse’s life as they are worn. However, the length of these teeth is finite. As the teeth erupt and are then worn by chewing, sharp points form along the sides. These points can cause significant pain in the mouth when chewing, and should be removed at least annually. We are seeing horses live well into their 30s and sometimes 40s now, and a large reason for that is regular dental care. The goal is to identify small problems before they become big problems, and to keep the mouth in balance and pain free, so that the horse can chew efficiently and comfortably.
What are the goals of a good float?
Years ago, a “good float” was done without sedation and without a speculum. The mouth was never examined. The floater took a hand float, and rasped the sharp edges of the teeth off, and that was that. We have learned a lot more about the equine mouth since then, and floating has become so much more than that. We know that there are table angles that must be maintained in order for the horse to efficiently chew its food. We know that malocclusions such as hooks and waves not only cause pain, but also decrease the lifespan of the involved teeth. This additional work is beginning to be referred to as equilibration. Now that we are asking our horses to perform at such high levels, we have also learned that a proper equilibration with bit seats can make a world of difference in a performance animal. Often head tossing, improper head set, “hardness” on the bit, etc. are considered behavioral problems, when in fact many if not most of these can be improved or eliminated with proper dental care.
Who to choose for your equine dentist?
There are countless options from whom to select when choosing someone to address your horse’s dental needs, and it can be understandably confusing as 10 different people often have just as many opinions on the matter! This is a very hot topic, in Texas in particular. From DVMs to various non-veterinarian titles including AEqD, CEqD, EDP and many others, the letters can become a bit of a jumble. One important thing to consider is that ONLY veterinarians are legally permitted to administer sedation to your horse. Drug reactions happen, and can be fatal; only a veterinarian will be equipped to properly tend to this. In the state of Texas, the law states that only a veterinarian or a licensed Equine Dental Provider (EDP) under the supervision of a veterinarian can perform dental work on your horse. Not only does this protect your horse from improperly educated folks that can do great harm, but it also gives you recourse should something go wrong either during or as a result of the procedure. Having an unlicensed individual work on your animal is extremely unwise.
Additionally, the education that non-veterinarians undergo is highly varied and unstandardized; some of them don’t even have any formal education. The new dental law is designed to help reduce the availability of these folks, but one must still be wise when choosing a dental professional.
Is horse sedation really necessary?
Absolutely. A traditional “float” can be accomplished with hand tools without sedation, but by doing this it is not possible to perform a thorough oral examination of every tooth. Malocclusions will be missed and therefore not corrected. Fractured teeth, open pulps, open infundibulae, and diastemae will be missed and not addressed. In short, an equilibration is absolutely not possible without sedation. Additionally, sedation helps the horse to relax, and in turn increases safety of all parties nearby.