Equine Dentistry Performed by a Veterinarian
There are many reasons to have a veterinarian perform the dentistry on your horse.
The first and foremost reason is that not every horse needs to have his or her teeth floated every year. Unless you actually reach way back into your horse's mouth (which is never recommended unsupervised) you have no way of knowing if your horse actually needs the procedure. Why pay for something that you don't have to? Approximately one-half of the adult horses I float on a regular basis can skip at least one year between floats as long as they are checked every year. I check your horse first - prior to sedating (unless it won't allow an examination) and then decide if the floating procedure is even necessary.
Another very important reason to have the dental exam done by a veterinarian is that I conduct a physical examination prior to the procedure. Many times the physical examination will uncover a far more important issue such as a heart murmur or arrythmia, or an abnormal skin lump or growth. For those of you who are concerned about saving money, which includes me, it is far less expensive to treat or address an issue when it is small than waiting until it is advanced. I once saw a gelding that was not attended to by a veterinarian for several years and when I sedated him for his dentistry, I cleaned his sheath (which we always offer to do) and he had the largest bean I have ever seen - the size of an apricot. I would have saved it if it hadn't smelled so bad!
When I examine the oral cavity, I also check for loose or diseased teeth by evaluation of odor, tooth mobility, a visual assessment and if there is a suspicious finding, xrays of the jaw. The tongue is also inspected for normal movement, strength and appearance. I have seen horses with very pale or yellow mucous membranes or abnormal capillary refill time that prompted bloodwork. I have also found horses with very sore temporomandibular joints (TMJ) which prompted me to recommend therapy.
My speculum is a well-made precision piece of equipment and has very fine adjustments which decreases the stress on the TMJ. In addition, I use the Power Float which greatly reduces the amount of time that the speculum is on your horse, also cutting down on the need for anti-inflammatories. In fact, it is rare that I give or prescribe any anti-inflammatories following a routine dental float.
If the dental examination reveals a problem such as overgrown or unevenly worn incisors, or wolf teeth need to be pulled, or hooks or ramps need to be reduced, I have the knowledge and equipment necessary to correct these abnormalities. I can also give and prescribe any medications that need to be given following the procedure.
If the dental examination reveals an abnormality that I cannot address, I have access to a board certified equine dentist at Marion duPont Equine Medical Center and will forward any findings, xrays, pictures, etc. to help with an appropriate resolution. Contrary to what most people believe, the extraction of a horse cheek tooth is not a procedure that should be done in the field unless the tooth is already loose and nearly ready to fall out on its own.
Dr. Woerner putting a "bit seat" on the upper right pre-molar. We use the Power Float for most procedures but also use hand tools when appropriate.
Dr. Woerner with an actual equine skull showing very large hooks on the upper pre-molars. If you look closely you can see the corresponding hooks on the lowe last molars, only left one is visible.
Your equine veterinarian, if he or she is educated and interested in equine dentition, is still the best person to examine your horse's mouth and perform a dental floating procedure. The benefits range from a shorter, less stressful experience for your horse to early detection of serious conditions either in the oral cavity or elsewhere in your horse's body. In addition, if your horse doesn't need a dental float, you will save money by not having it done every year.
We look forward to helping you with your horse's dental needs, either in our clinic or at your barn.
Tania D. Woerner VMD