Tuesdays with Tony
My people told me to tell your people that July is Dental Month here at the Clinic. It’s one of my favorite times of the year because so many of you come to see me, and, let’s be honest, that’s really one of the most important things you could ever do. Not to mention you’re bringing your horse in for their annual dental examination and flotation. And if you’ve been reading my blog recently, and I know you have, you know that it is essential that your veterinarian perform your horse’s dental.
You know WHY your veterinarian should be performing your horse’s dental (Sedation, bright light, and speculum so they can get all the way to the back teeth). You understand the basic concept of a dental, which is to float sharp points. But do you know what else is involved in a dental examination and flotation? No? Well, lucky for you, I am well-versed in all things equine dentistry.
Types of Teeth
As you well know, my daily meals are extremely important to me. So much so that I start reminding my staff about dinner time an hour before hand just so they don’t forget. If I’m not mistaken, horses are also very much creatures of habit and I am certain they let you know if you are 5 minutes late for breakfast. Can you imagine if your horse couldn’t eat because of dental problems? I would be utterly miserable.
Unlike cats and humans, who have brachydont teeth, horses have hypsodont teeth. I know you’re saying, wait a second Tony, those are some big words, aren’t teeth just teeth? Well, no, they are not. Carnivores and omnivores typically have brachydont teeth, which are low-crowned teeth in which the crown sits above the gum line. Brachydont teeth stop growing once all permanent teeth are fully erupted.
Horses, on the other hand, have hypsodont teeth which continue to erupt throughout their entire life and the enamel extends below the gum line. As grazing animals, horses are eating almost constantly throughout the day. Because of the type of forage horses consume, their teeth undergo a lot of wear and tear. Therefore, slow eruption of their teeth throughout their lives compensates for the constant grinding which can wear away 2-3mm of tooth/year. This is also why a diet that consists of quality forage is so important.
When you bring your horse to the clinic, his exam starts right away with a complimentary CATscan by yours truly. Once the CATscan has been completed, I allow the docs and technicians to step in. The docs exam starts almost immediately. They like to watch your horse eat and chew while they talk to you about his history and if there have been any problems, dental related or not. Believe it or not, problems that may seem behavioral could actually stem from your horse’s mouth.
After a few words with you and look from the outside, my docs and technicians prepare your horse for his oral exam. This involves sedation, an antiseptic mouth wash, and placement of a speculum. (Apparently horses do not just say “AH” on command). Once your horse is settled into the speculum and head loop, my docs reach for their bright light. A bright light is imperative to a thorough oral examination.
Depending on what all is going on in your horse’s mouth, my docs may write a few things down or have their technician take a few notes. While examining his mouth they assess all of his soft tissues including his cheeks, gums, tongue, hard and soft palate, and lips. They look for any abnormalities including signs of foreign bodies or cancer. Then they start the exam of your horse’s teeth. They note any signs of infection including caries (cavities), fractured teeth, misaligned teeth and teeth that may have grown too much or not enough. They check for hooks, ramps, steps, and waves. If any teeth are missing, they will make a note of that as well. You may even notice them pull out this little mirror on a stick. They tell me that it is so they can look at the back of your horse’s mouth better.
Occasionally, they may recommend radiographs, just like your human dentist. If they suspect a fractured or infected tooth, radiographs are the best way to assess the root structure of the tooth and develop a plan for removal if necessary. Alternatively, a Catscan may be recommended. Unfortunately, this is not the same kind of catscan that I provide and requires general anesthesia. Radiographs are significantly less invasive and can give my docs a lot of the information they require to best treat your horse.
After a thorough oral examination, the next step is the flotation. My docs use a diamond burr head on the end of a long battery-powered rod. This head spins in a circular motion to grind down any sharp enamel points that your horse had naturally developed over the year. It is a very gentle, yet effective tool which allows the docs to work quickly to correct any problems seen on their exam. Unlike hand floats, which can be very damaging to your horse’s soft tissues, the power float causes none to minimal damage.
While floating your horse’s teeth, the docs take care to spend time on areas such as hooks, ramps, waves, and steps. They correct these as much as they can without exposing tooth root. Sometimes, however, corrections must be made slowly which may lead to my docs recommending twice yearly floats or even quarterly dental floats for your horse. Aggressive corrections and/or overfloating will lead to more problems such as open pulp, fractures, and infection. Correcting a problem before it becomes too severe is key to preventing the need for more than once a year dental floats.
After your horse’s teeth have been fully examined and a float has been performed, they will be taken out of the head loop and the speculum will be removed. At this point, my docs check on their front teeth, noting any abnormalities such as a slant mouth, evidence of cribbing or equine odontoclastic tooth resorption and hypercementosis. They may make some minor adjustments with the float to allow for better occlusion of his teeth which will help your horse chew more effectively. Finally, they make suggestions to you regarding further care and write all of their findings down in a special form on the computer. I particularly like to help with this part, as I have a knack for computers, and I find they really give me a lot of attention when I help them with their medical notes.
Around the Clinic we are a group of highly food-motivated people and cats. We know how much horses enjoy their food as well. That’s why it is so important to have your horse’s dental examination and flotation performed at least once a year by your veterinarian (refer to my previous blogs if you need a refresher on why your vet should perform dentals and other procedures). To prevent problems later in life, annual dentals are an essential part of your horse’s veterinary care. Give the Clinic a call to schedule your haul-in dental for the month of July and don’t forget to ask about the special discount!
Until next week,
P.S. Are you “chomping at the bit” for more dental care information? If so, the humans have a fantastic podcast on dental exams. You can find that and so much more on our podcast page.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!