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12/19/2002 Entry: "Equine Dentistry"

March 1998

Published by HorsePlay

Raymond Hyde, DVM

Goldie was beautiful with long blonde hair, well muscled thighs and legs. She moved real nice and had a pedigree to match. What was she doing in a place like this - a low price livestock auction? The palomino mare was being "dumped" because she would toss her head up and down and become upset with any bit contact, and was considered untrainable.

Mort was a beautiful and well mannered 16.3 hand, bay, Thoroughbred gelding with a classic head and neck. He had had 3 years of foxhunting experience, but was dropped off at the hunt's kennels to be fed to the hounds. He had become dangerous because he would rear and run backward when ridden.

Fortunately Goldie was purchased by a knowledgeable horsewoman who had me examine her mouth. I found two unerupted wolf teeth that were causing a painful response to the bit. The gum tissue overlying the pointed teeth was being pinched by the bit. I imagine it causes a painful feeling similar to having a pebble in your shoe. Thanks to a kind hearted whipper-in, Mort was diverted to a horseman who asked me to perform a routine dental exam and maintenance on his horses. Mort's problems also arose from a subgingival, or unerupted, wolf tooth. Both horses responded wonderfully when the wolf teeth were removed. They would no longer throw their head or run backward when mounted.

Have you ever looked a gift horse in the mouth? How about a horse you paid good money for? You should, because it is the only way to find and correct dental problems. It is often difficult to look inside your horse's mouth. They often resent you trying to open their mouth and inserting a flashlight. The examination can be difficult, and even dangerous, not to mention the actual dental work that is needed.

A thorough and knowledgeable veterinarian or equine dental technician should inspect the horse's teeth and oral cavity. It is amazing what abnormalities can be found. All horses should be checked for dental problems before being put in training. Many trainers know they can avoid trouble and make training easier if there are no dental problems or have them corrected before beginning.

Dental problems can manifest themselves in many ways. Common signs due to dental abnormalities can include: quidding hay (dropping partially chewed balls of hay); loss of weight; a bad odor from the mouth; trouble chewing (turning the head on an angle or up to one side when eating); dropping grain; abnormal chewing motion; resisting placing the bit into the mouth (sharp canines?); resisting bit contact (head tossing, trouble bending, traveling and jumping hollow); passing whole, uncrushed grain in manure; sour attitude; tail wringing; a chronic discharge from one nostril; a swelling on the jaw or the face.

Teeth problems occur when sharp edges and points develop due to normal or abnormal wear patterns. Horses are born with only their upper and lower central incisors and twelve premolars (cheek teeth). The rest of the deciduous incisors (baby teeth) erupt and come into use over their first nine months. Horses gain twelve additional permanent molars from one to three and a half years of age. They also shed and replace all of their deciduous teeth by four years of age. Shedding deciduous teeth (caps) often cause discomfort. Pulling these loose or impacted caps often helps a great deal. Meanwhile, a horse's teeth are very slowly and constantly erupting (growing out), like a beaver's teeth, and continue to do so throughout their life until they may finally fall out at 25 plus years. This eruption is kept in balance in the normal horse by wear on the teeth by grinding food, and contact with the opposing tooth. Problems arise when a tooth fails to develop and allows the opposing tooth to over grow into the dental gap. This overgrown tooth can interfere with mastication, and cause pain if it reaches the opposite gum. Hooks develop on the first and last cheek teeth when they are not in one hundred percent opposition. These hooks can lacerate the cheeks and gums. They can be removed by cutting or filing (see photos-Dr. Hyde works with Equine Dental Technician Dennis Lynch from Potomac, MD to cut the large hooks present on this horse). Today these larger hooks are often removed by use of a motorized rotary burr while the horse is sedated.

Even horses with properly aligned teeth will develop numerous sharp points along their grinding cheek teeth. Removing these points with a file is called floating. Floating is done routinely every six months to a year to allow the horse more comfort, and to prevent check and tongue lacerations. Horses can abscess teeth that crack, or loosen with advanced age.

Equine dentistry is often neglected and the horses suffer, and riders or trainers have more difficulty than necessary when riding. Equine dentistry is a physically and mentally demanding profession. Many horses can have routine dental exams and maintenance work done without sedation. Some uncooperative patients, and painful procedures necessitate sedation. Equine dental technicians can often provide routine maintenance and sometimes work with veterinarians on difficult cases that require sedation, antibiotics, radiographs, or surgery. Let us remember to call our horse's dentist, and to appreciate their hard work.

NOTE: The American School of Equine Dentistry is a private school.

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