AAEP Convention 2005: Dentistry Table Topic

Dentistry continues to be a popular topic of discussion among equine veterinarians; more than 100 attendees lined the walls in standing-room-only fashion during the Dentistry Table Topic session at the 2005 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Seattle, Wash. Topics of discussion included tooth sealants, incisor shortening, sedatives, colic, and more.

During a discussion of dental disease and body weight, one attendee noted that there is not necessarily a correlation between the two. "We see fat horses all the time with terrible mouths; just because the horse is fat doesn't mean his teeth are OK," he commented. However, other attendees commented that older horses often drop weight because of bad teeth. Co-moderator Mike Lowder, DVM, MS, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, noted that zoo veterinarians now float teeth in zoo animals because it increases their life spans. Another attendee noted that if the condition of a horse's teeth slows down his eating, he will be at a disadvantage in a competitive situation (i.e., eating out of the same feed bin or forage pile as other horses in a pasture).

One attendee asked if anyone had noticed horses colicking after dental adjustments, particularly after significant work. Co-moderator Mary DeLorey, DVM, who practices only equine dentistry from Seattle, Wash., said she recommends that owners be careful with feed after dental work. "I think the biggest two issues with the risk of colic or choke after dental work are 1. Feeding too soon after sedation--the tongue and other soft tissues take a while to resume their coordination after significant sedation, and 2. Making major corrections all at once can cause some horses to have a lot of difficulty eating for a variable length of time after dental work," she explained. "This may predispose the horse to colic or choke. Post-dental correction counseling will instruct the owner on what is normal and what might cause a problem after dental care."

Several attendees said they warn their clients not to feed horses anything but water and possibly pasture for up to four hours after its use. Some even require that owners sign a release about this.

Another topic was whether attendees take body temperatures of horses before sedation; infrequently, mild to moderate reactions to alpha-2 agonist sedatives in the form of hyperventilation and trembling have been seen. This reaction is mild, self-limiting and is in no way life-threatening, assures DeLorey. The opinion of many internal medicine practitioners is that horses already incubating a virus (such as flu) might be more susceptible to this adverse reaction, she explained.  By taking body temperatures before sedation, a practitioner might avoid these reaction problems by declining to provide dental care in a mildly febrile (feverish) horse. Very few attendees said they take temperatures before dental work, but one said she has caught a lot of flu cases and internal abscesses by doing this. "Maybe this is something we all should do," commented Lowder.

Shortening teeth and tooth sealants were also covered. One attendee noted, "There is no literature showing that shortening incisors to increase molar contact makes any difference in digestibility for that horse." DeLorey added, "I see a few horses, anecdotally, with poor molar contact, but they have very long incisors. If the horse is fat and happy, I leave him alone. For a skinny horse, I'll shorten (the incisors) down. The right thing is case-by-case evaluation."

Teaching students good dentistry practices was another big focus. "There is a real hole in the education of students on dentistry," stated one attendee. Another noted that donating dental work to equine rescue facilities is great public relations and gives students the chance to work on a lot of horses.

Several dentistry case examples were discussed, and probably one of the biggest conversations of the day covered the advantages and disadvantages of various sedative protocols and sedative reversals. The relatively new sedative Sedi-Vet was discussed; this is a new drug of the same class as most of the other sedatives equine dentists use. It has some properties that may make it attractive for use in dentistry.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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