Equine Dental Care
Dr. Andrew is well equipped and experienced with both hand tools and special power floating instruments. These allow him to perform many dental procedures, from basic “floats” to treating wave mouths, creating “bit seating” and solving many other complicated conditions. He is also experienced in dental extractions.
Floating is a term that means to lightly file. It is a term also used in carpentry. A carpenter may float a piece of floorboard to get it to set in place properly. In equine dentistry it is used mostly to define the filing off of sharp enamel edges from the molars. These edges form due to the anatomy of the horses mouth. The upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw. During the chewing process, most of the molar surfaces are engaged in grinding. The areas that are not grinding are the places that form points. So a point is piece of enamel that is higher than the rest of the tooth because it was not part of the grinding surface. Floating is the filing of these points so that they do not get excessively large and cause cuts to the tongue or cheek. Points can get so large as to cause the jaw to lock up.
Points are normal and natural. In nature, they are only a problem if they become so large that they interfere with the normal functioning of the mouth. In nature, horses eat more coarse feeds like brush and tree bark and tree branches. The hardness of these feeds and the way the horse chews them (horses chew to use more of the grinding surface of the teeth) likely help keep points under control in wild horses. We feed softer hays and grain to our domestic horses and they actually have to use less grinding surface to eat these feeds. This means more and larger points. Dropping feed, odd head positions while chewing and weight loss may be indications that the points are causing pain to the cheek and tongue when eating. An annual check up can determine if your horse’s teeth need attention.
We ask our horses to wear halters and bridles and carry bits in their mouths. Halters and bridles put pressure on the cheeks of horses, pushing the cheek against the teeth. If there are sharp points on the teeth, pain is the result. The bit lies on the tongue and in certain positions can cause the tongue to be pushed against the teeth. Again, if there are sharp points, pain is the result. Horses will hold their heads in odd positions and may behave badly to avoid the pain caused from the tack. Your horse may be telling you that its teeth need attention.
Traditionally, floats were hand tools. Power tools were available in middle of the last century. In the past 20 years newer, better and lighter floats have emerged. Batteries have allowed good dentistry to be done in remote places. Power floats are not all equal and some may be harmful, especially in the wrong hands. Rotary head tools are unlikely to cause vibration of teeth that can loosen the roots, especially in older horses. Teeth can be loosened with hand tools, too. Dr. Dean uses a combination of power and hand tools depending on the age and needs of the individual horse. When re-shaping an abnormal tooth or lowering a tall tooth, power tools are the way to go. Procedures can be performed quicker and the time a horses jaw is help open with the speculum is decreased.
It was once felt that dentistry was only necessary in older horses, but we now know that horses of all ages need dental attention. Many abnormalities that could lead to life-long problems can be corrected if a comprehensive dental examination and proper treatment are started in time. Examples are step mouth, wave mouth, ramps and hooks. Weanlings can have very sharp edges to their premolars that can be a source of tongue and cheek sores, pain and poor digestion. Horses that are “poor doers” at this stage can benefit from a quick float.
Radiology is available to help identify problems like tooth fractures, root abscesses or extra teeth.
Watch your horses for possible signs of dental disease, such as head tossing, tilting the head when eating or being ridden, change in performance or attitude, foul odor from the mouth or nostrils, dropping grain or losing weight. Call for a dental examination immediately if you see these symptoms.
Services can be performed at your farm or stable, or you may haul your horse to Dr. Dean’s facility.