Tuesdays with Tony
As you all know, my docs and techs have been doing some traveling this time of year to different continuing education seminars. But did you know, this is a requirement for my docs? They have to go for 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years to stay up to date to the most recent research and talk to other docs about all things equine. They happily oblige as they usually get to go somewhere different, catch up with old friends and colleagues, and learn some pretty neat stuff to bring back to all you lovely folks.
A couple weeks ago, Dr. Abbott went jet setting off to the frigid tundra that is Wisconsin. They asked me to go, but I don’t leave the comfort of my Florida warmth. Since Dr. Abbott has been back, all I have heard about is teeth this and teeth that. Goodness, who cares about teeth that much? I am sure I could eat my canned food just fine even if I did not have any teeth. In fact, I bet I could eat it even faster! Nonetheless, the docs all seem to think your horse’s teeth are pretty important and now they expect me to teach you all about them.
Unlike the superior species that is the cat, horses have hypsodont teeth. This means that their teeth continue to erupt after forming and will do so for most of the horse’s life. This also means that the length of their teeth is limited and therefore so is the lifespan of their teeth. Why is this important, you ask? Well, since their teeth are continuously erupting, this means they are also continuously developing wear patterns as they grind their feed. Horses eat even more than I do, so that’s a lot of wear.
Horses grind their feed in a circular pattern, and they have the tendency to develop dental problems as they age. You all have heard about floating horse’s teeth and the importance of the yearly dental. But did you know the bigger part of the yearly dental is actually the oral exam? This is why it’s so important to have your horse’s teeth examined at least yearly by a licensed veterinarian. Luckily, you have my docs at your fingertips. When you call to have a dental performed on your horse, one of my docs will come out and do a thorough physical examination on your horse to make sure he is healthy for sedation. Then they will sedate your horse, place a speculum, and open your horse’s mouth. One of my techs will then place your horse’s head in a head loop and my docs will go to work.
First, they will shine a bright light in your horse’s mouth (and likely in their tech’s eyes, but not on purpose, of course) to inspect all of your horse’s teeth for any abnormalities, including cavities, open roots, fractures, and any other dental problems horses can have. They will also use a mirror or camera to look at the very back of your horse’s mouth and they will probe any areas of concern. While performing the oral examination they are also looking for any evidence of ulceration, foreign material and abnormalities in the wear of your horse’s teeth.
Since you all have your horses signed up on my wellness plans, you have been through this process before. But for you slackers out there, I will explain what happens during the dental float. Once my docs have assessed your horse’s mouth and made note of any problem areas, they will grab their float and get to work. During this time, they file down any sharp points that may be causing discomfort to your horse’s soft tissue. They also make sure that your horse’s teeth line up appropriately so they can continue to chew efficiently.
Horses often have conformational challenges that cause their teeth to wear incorrectly, where some teeth grow longer than others or sharp points called hooks develop. Most of the time my docs can correct abnormalities in one float, but sometimes they can’t make full corrections without compromising the integrity of your horse’s tooth. At this point they will likely suggest that your horse be seen again in 4-6 months to continue addressing the abnormality. Most often, however, they will recommend another dental examination with float in 1 year.
One of the best diagnostic tools my docs have on hand is the x-ray machine. Radiographs are great if your horse has nasal discharge, a foul odor from his mouth, or if your horse has been involved in any kind of trauma. If, during your horse’s oral examination, my docs find any concerning areas such as an open root, a fracture, or severe gingivitis, it is likely they will recommend dental radiographs. When my docs take radiographs, they will be able to look at the roots of your horse’s teeth to determine if there is an infection or abscess, if there is a tooth root fracture, and/or if any of your horse’s teeth need to be extracted. As horses age their tooth root becomes shorter and shorter and it is never a bad idea for my docs to shoot some radiographs of your older horse to assess how much tooth root remains and so they can take any preventative measures to maintain what teeth are left. Lucky for you, I had the bright idea to offer a dental radiograph package, so call the girls in the office for more information.
During the final part of your horse’s dental examination and float my docs will look at the front teeth, or incisors. They will check for any abnormalities, overbite, underbite, non-viable teeth or disease, or other conformational changes. At times they may recommend radiographs of the incisors or floating of the enamel points to adjust their bite. They will also remove any excess calculus that may be on your horse’s canines. For some reason, the docs and techs find this to be the best part of the dental. I, however, find it disgusting. Either way, it is an important part of the dental as calculus build up can lead to gingivitis and other oral diseases.
You all go to the dentist every year, and you would not let your children skip the dentist, so don’t let your horse skip their yearly dental. Having a thorough oral examination and dental float performed will help keep your horse in tip top shape and prevent the spread of disease, weight loss, and keep them happy and healthy for years to come.
If you desire more information regarding your horse’s teeth and dental requirements, I expect to see you at my open house this Saturday, October 19th from 10am-2pm. Dr. Abbott will be doing a live dental demonstration including the oral examination and floating of sharp enamel points. If you don’t have any questions about dentals, that’s ok, I still expect to see you at the open house. You can pet me, you can get a signed copy of the best-selling book in the horse world, and you can be entered to win a free wellness plan! It’s a triple bonus.
Until next week,
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!