Advances in Equine Dentistry

It often is very difficult to break free from old customs, habits, and traditions. This holds especially true in the horse world. Horsekeeping is steeped in the rich traditions of a long, colorful history. Many of these time-honored customs should be treasured and preserved; but others can impede the development and dissemination of veterinary knowledge. There has been a lot of talk lately about the "new equine dentistry" and the "new" findings regarding the importance of proper dental care for the long-term health of the horse. The information that is available now and the research currently under way are absolutely crucial for the advancement of equine health care and must displace obsolete ideas.

The irony of this situation is that many horse owners--and indeed many veterinarians--are reluctant to embrace a more comprehensive approach to equine dental care because "it's new" or it's "just a fad." The truth of the matter is that a more thorough dental examination and treatment routine is anything but "new."

When horses were used for transportation and labor, the need for thorough dental care beyond just smoothing off the sharp edges was understood and dentistry was widely used. Men skilled in equine dental corrections were an essential part of living and doing business with horses. Since the advent of the combustion engine and the widespread use of the automobile, the role of the horse has shifted to a largely recreational one in the modern world. With the economic pressure off, there have been several generations of horse owners and veterinary professionals who are completely unfamiliar with more thorough dental care in the horse.

The concept of comprehensive dental care on a basic level is not new, but merely rediscovered. What is new, however, is the really exciting part. Instead of just saying, "OK, those guys way-back-when must have known what they were doing. We should do things their way," today's leaders in veterinary medical research are saying, "Let's see if we can understand precisely how a horse's masticatory (chewing) apparatus works. Let's see if we can understand why abnormalities occur and why we should correct them. Let's see if we can determine what the long-term effects will be. Let's see if we can develop a better way to achieve our goals."

This is the new part. The veterinary community is accumulating a foundation of knowledge from which to make reasoned, scientific decisions about what's best for a horse's dental health. The research and clinical findings are flooding out with new information available on nearly a daily basis. The equine veterinarian with an interest in dentistry is uniquely poised to take equine dental care to a new level for the overall improvement of your horse's health.

I can't tell you how many times in a normal day my clients are surprised at what the inside of a horse's mouth looks like because they've never seen it before! Too many are shocked, then appalled, then embarrassed at the severe problems their horses have been coping with, without complaint for years in some cases.

I often relate the story of one very conscientious owner of 17 horses who wanted me to see two that she thought were having problems. (A friend had suggested that she might want to consult a veterinarian with specialized training in dentistry.) The abnormalities in those horses' mouths were impressive enough that she asked if I would look at one more horse. That's when all the pieces fell together for this owner. This 16-year-old mare had been "floated" faithfully every year, but was having a hard time holding her weight even though she seemed to be eating okay. The mare had some of the most severe and painful abnormalities that I have ever seen. During the examination, her owner could plainly see the severely sheared molar tables, the fractured molar with one fragment nearly perforating her cheek, and the other creating a deep ulcer in her tongue, and the marked diagonal incisor malocclusion. Suddenly this owner came face-to-face with the differences between "a float" and a thorough dental examination and treatment and realized just how accepting, adaptive, and downright stoic horses can be. She immediately made arrangements to treat all of her horses.

By the time most owners can detect a problem, mouth abnormalities are likely to be severe. When veterinary and horse-owning communities move from an attitude of dental correction to one of prevention, the horse will truly benefit from advances in equine dental knowledge, instrumentation, and anesthetic protocols.

If you're reading this publication, you're already in the elite of horse owners. You have made education a priority. You can be the catalyst for increased awareness in your community. Spread the news! Be an apostle of owner education! Knowledge is power.

About the Author

Mary DeLorey, DVM

Mary S. DeLorey, DVM earned her veterinary degree from University of Missouri in 1992. Since 2000, she has devoted her entire professional energies to equine dentistry. Her practice, Northwest Equine Dentistry, Inc. serves the states of Washington and Idaho and is based near Seattle. Dr. DeLorey has traveled internationally to instruct veterinarians in equine dentistry techniques and speaks to horse owners nationwide. She trail rides and raises sport ponies from her ranch in Eastern Washington when she's not on the road.

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