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Mobile Veterinary Services
Education | Equine Dentistry
Equine dentistry has evolved from very rudimentary rasping of the horses molars in an often unsedated and uncooperative patient to a sophisticated science of dental equilibration under sedation with high-tech tools and the technology for advanced procedures such as filling cavities and performing root canals.
At Iron Will Mobile Veterinary Services, we recommend that every horse have a brief oral examination twice a year. We perform brief oral examinations free of charge as part of the service of vaccinating your horses. A brief examination involves gently grasping the tongue and pulling it to the side so the molars, or cheek teeth, can be visualized. This is not a thorough oral examination, but rather allows us a quick opportunity to assess the condition of the cheek teeth and to advise a timetable for dental intervention for any noted problems.
Generally, there are two reasons to have dental equilibration or floating on your horse:
1) Performance/comfort reasons
2) Corrective reasons.
The molars, or cheek teeth, of horses are constantly being used to grind forages and grains and unlike human teeth, they wear down the surface of their teeth day by day. Since horses teeth are “in constant wear,” they tend to continually develop sharp enamel points. Some horses 'wear' their teeth better than others.
Signs indicative of dental disorders and necessitate further examination include:
• Loss of body condition
• Weight loss
• Quidding (forming a bolus of food, then dropping it)
• Head held to one side
• Difficult & slow feeding (stop/start chewing; reluctance to drink cold water
• Excessive salivation
• Malodorous breath
• Facial or mandibular swelling (facial asymmetry)
• Nasal discharge
• Avoids painful chewing (may result in choke)
• Lacerations & ulcers on side of tongue & cheek
• Head tossing
• Whole grain in feces
• Poor performance
In dealing with performance and comfort, the bit can cause huge problems in horses that need some dental work. The bit pulls the extra soft tissue of the cheeks backwards into those sharp enamel points (which are right up against the cheek mucosa) and can cause discomfort during riding. The best explanation in human terms is the discomfort of having braces irritating the mucosa of a person's cheek. During a performance dental, we will smooth the sharp points from the outside edge (the cheek side) of the upper molars and the inside edge (the tongue side) of the lower molars as well as creating a “bit seat” on the premolars that can come in direct contact with the bit.
In dealing with corrective dentistry, we are usually more concerned with the alignment of the incisors and molars (cheek teeth). Problems that are commonly seen are wavemouth, hooks or ramps, and incisor malalignments, and poor molar occlusion. These conditions can all be present in horses that appear to be in good body condition, and that eat and chew their food normally. These conditions can often be managed successfully if found early enough, however, if these conditions become severe enough to cause mastication problems and weight loss, they are often beyond repair and become simply a management nightmare.
We perform performance and corrective dentistry under sedation with the horse standing and supported in a dental halter or on a dental head stand. An oral speculum positioned in the horse's mouth to enable us to see each and every tooth and to work unobstructed by the horses chewing movements. A thorough oral examination cannot be performed without having the mouth open. This also gives us an excellent opportunity to educate owners on the importance of dental care in horses by having them see and maybe even feel inside the horse's mouth.
During power dental procedures we are very conscientious of nerve damage from overheating and work very diligently to preserve tooth mass. As with any procedure, if done incorrectly, it can cause harm. Power dentistry enables us to work more quickly to so that we don't need to keep a horse sedated more than is necessary. Equine dentistry probably receives the most positive feedback of the services we provide, mainly because the results are so obvious to the horse owners.
Recognizing Signs of Dental Disorders
• Dropping feed from their mouth while eating
• Weight loss
• Excessive Salivation
• Foul odor from the mouth
• Nasal discharge or a swelling on the face
• Tossing, head tilting or fighting the bit
The Dental Exam
In order to do a thorough dental exam, a horse's mouth must be opened to allow visualization of the teeth and soft tissue structures in the mouth. Using a full-mouth speculum and mild sedation we are able to safely and comfortably examine the mouth and every tooth. During the Dental Exam we will look for:
• Sharp molar edges that rub your horse's tongue or insides on his cheeks and
• Trapped pieces of grain or hay that develop an abscess on the inside of the
• Tooth misalignments can make the horse work harder to chew his food
• Cracked molars allowing decay, destructive tooth roots or invading bacteria
• Wolf teeth may interfere with a bit in his mouth
• Deciduous teeth may not allow permanent teeth to erupt
• Inflammation of the gums may cause problems from periodontal disease
Oral exams should be an essential part of an annual physical examination by a veterinarian. Every dental exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative dental maintenance. Mature horses should get a thorough dental exam at least once a year, and horses 2 – 5 years old should be examined twice yearly.
Common Dental Disorders
• Sharp enamel points causing lacerations of cheek and tongue
• Retained caps (baby teeth that have not been shed)
• Retained wolf teeth (causes discomfort when bitted)
• Hooks on premolars and molars
• Infected teeth and/or gums
• Congenital defects
• Periodontal (gum) disease
Dental Equilibration or 'Floating'
The term floating refers to the removal of sharp points from the horse's cheek teeth. The horse's maxilla is wider than it's mandible, thus the outer edge of the upper teeth have nothing to occlude with and like wise for the inner edge of the lower teeth. This is what allows these points to form on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. In addition to the removal of sharp enamel point, malocclusions of the cheek teeth (wave mouth, step mouth, missing teeth) are also addressed, as are abnormalities of the incisors.
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