Could Power Dentistry Equipment Cause Harm?

The use of power equipment in the field of equine dentistry has been a great aid to equine practitioners. One advantage is that it lets the practitioner complete major dental corrections before sedation wears off. However, could these power tools be harming horses' teeth? According to a recent study done by Gordon Baker, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, of the University of Illinois' College of Veterinary Medicine, in some instances power tools could damage the teeth. In his presentation, "The Use of Power Equipment in Equine Dentistry" at the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention, Baker discussed the advantages, potential disadvantages, and guidelines for the efficient use of power equipment in equine dentistry.

The use of power equipment reduces the risk of tooth fracture, there is less labor involved for the veterinarian, procedures can be done more quickly, there are superior end results, and the practitioner has a reduced workload, according to Baker.

In human dentistry and in animal models, it has been shown that crown reduction with power equipment generates heat in the tooth. An increase in pulp temperature of 5.5°C causes irreversible damage in 15% of the human teeth tested. Another study showed that an increase in pulp temperature of 16.3°C resulted in pulp necrosis (death) in 100% of the teeth that were examined. Damage from thermal pulp injury might not be seen for one year, said Baker. It has been determined that an increase of 5°C is the highest safe increase before damage occurs. Since all hypsodont teeth (long teeth that wear away throughout the animal's life) need living pulp, this could be a problem for the horse.

Thirty equine teeth were divided into three groups for the in vitro study. Group one underwent a one-minute reduction using a disc burr power floating system. Group two underwent a two-minute reduction. The experiment was then repeated with both groups undergoing reduction for the same amount of time with water irrigation during the procedure. The water temperature was 20.3°C and was delivered at 20 ml/minute. Two thermocouples were placed 15 mm (proximal) from the biting surface of the tooth and 25 mm (distal) from the biting surface of the tooth at the level of the pulp chamber from the biting surface of the teeth to measure heat changes in the teeth.

The one-minute reduction showed an average 6.6°C rise in temperature at the proximal thermocouple and an average 1.2°C increase at the distal thermocouple. The two-minute reduction produced a 24.3°C and 4.06°C increase, respectively. Thermal increases continued for two minutes after the work was stopped for group two. During the repeat reductions, application of water for cooling negated all heating effects of the power tool.

The two-minute reduction was the equivalent of major hook and ramp correction, crown or incisor reduction, or bit seat construction, said Baker. Results from the study indicated that these procedures could cause pulp trauma.

"Care must be taken, therefore, to minimize contact time and supplement major dental reductions with irrigations," Baker recommended. "Careful burr cleaning and maintenance will also help to reduce the occurrence of thermal injuries. It may not be necessary to have continuous irrigation, but in all major power work, intermittent contact time and cooling irrigation is recommended. Grounding of the electrical equipment will protect from electrical hazards."

About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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