Deserving of Dentistry

There may be no branch of equine veterinary medicine that is advancing as quickly as equine dentistry. As recently as a decade ago, it was still considered adequate to feel along the sides of a horse's first upper cheek teeth and decide, based on sharpness alone, whether that horse needed a "float." If treatment was deemed necessary, it consisted of a speedy rasping along the outsides of the horse's upper cheek teeth as far back as the float would reach while holding the horse's tongue still with a free hand. That tongue-hold probably served as restraint, too! We've come a long way!

More and more equine practitioners are upgrading their dentistry skills and knowledge of equine dental pathology and treatment options through instructional courses and one-on-one training opportunities available across the country and around the world. This is an encouraging trend in the veterinary profession because it means horses will be living longer, more comfortable lives.

It is common these days for horses to live into their 30s and beyond. Their teeth, however, were really only meant to last them into their 20s under optimum conditions. Unfortunately, the majority of our domestic horses do not live under those optimum natural conditions in which they evolved. Everything we, as equine veterinarians, can do to prevent the premature attrition of the horse's teeth will stand them in better stead to live better, and longer.

For instance, most major malocclusions (bite misalignments) start as small discrepancies when horses are young, often when permanent teeth are just erupting between the ages of 2 1/2 and five years. Small problems recognized and corrected at this age never turn into the large problems we currently see in the older horse population. A veterinarian well trained in equine dentistry has the skills to prevent most, if not all, major dental problems that have previously been accepted as an inevitable part of equine aging.

Did you know that all horses should receive a comprehensive dental examination before the age of 2 1/2 and at least yearly thereafter? Did you know that by the time most owners recognize that their horse is having difficulty eating or weight loss is apparent, that horse's dental condition is likely to be severely abnormal? Did you know that many parrot-mouthed (overbite) or sow-mouthed (underbite) foals can have near normal bites without surgery or orthodontics if the condition is recognized early? Foals should be checked for this condition soon after birth and periodically throughout foalhood. Did you know that periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in the horse? Did you know a qualified veterinarian can diagnose, treat, and in many cases prevent periodontal disease?

Paralleling this great expansion in knowledge and understanding is a huge advance in the instrumentation that qualified veterinarians can use to make dental corrections and treat dental disease. Improved full-mouth speculums and light sources for excellent visualization and access, more effective anesthetics, motorized rasps and burrs for fast and precise reduction of overgrowths and reshaping of teeth, air abrasion equipment for treating periodontal disease and damaged teeth, medications, and techniques borrowed from our small animal and human counterparts are just some of the improvements bringing equine dentistry into the new millennium.

The potent combination of explosions in knowledge and quantum advances in instrumentation is making possible huge strides in equine veterinary care, all for the good of the horse. As more and more owners become aware of this important health care field, more and more veterinarians will be able to provide the services our clients demand. Soon, every horse owner will have access to the state-of-the-art dental care that their equine partners so deserve.

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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