It is critical to be aware that most horses with dental pathologies show few to no clinical signs and as a result are unwittingly left to suffer in silence. Even when faced with a fulminant tooth root abscess, it is unusual for a horse to alter their appetite or even their performance. Why is this relevant? We will not find these problems is we do not look.
The Dental ExaminationA thorough dental examination must be performed to assess the horse's conformation, identify both normal and abnormal anatomy, pathology or disease, and to allow an appropriate treatment plan to be formed. In order to achieve all of these aims it is important to start by assessing the whole horse - body condition, eating habits, performance etc. Examination of the head is performed for symmetry, swellings and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain before moving onto examining the oral cavity in detail.
Examination of the oral cavity itself is a whole new art and not only requires special equipment but patient compliance. For young or nervous horses, or older patients with a degree of TMJ arthritis, this may be resented and even unsafe. In such cases, sedation of the horse may be required from the outset. Struggling with a fearful horse is not suitable for many reasons, not least safety of the people involved, but the horse's own wellbeing.
The alignment of the incisors is assessed initially as well as the horse's capacity to chew correctly by moving the jaw side to side and assessing at what point the incisors part. An oral speculum (gag), head torch, mirror and picks are required to examine the rest of the mouth in detail, including the cheek teeth (premolars and molars), tongue, gums, inside of the cheeks, hard and soft palates. Examinations may be facilitated by the use of a head stand.
Power versus hand floating?This is not an either or topic. All of our vets have experience with both hand floating techniques as well as the use of motorised dental equipment and both techniques have a place in practice.
It is perhaps not appropriate to view motorised equipment as more aggressive or only for use in severe cases. The level of work required and pathologies to be addressed will guide your vet in their choice of primary technique for each individual at each examination. Many vets and equine dental technicians (EDTs) will elect to predominantly use power tools as their go to, even for the most minor of work. There is no doubt that hand floating is a vital and valuable technique and a combination of these approaches is generally utilised within our team.
Older horses may respond better to power work as there is less forward-backward pull on the short tooth roots which can be uncomfortable; however, some noise sensitive patients may require hand floating as a primary choice. There are certain situation in which power work is always necessary, for example, addressing overgrowths (hooks or ramps) which require reduction that would not be physically possible in a suitable time scale with manual rasps.
We strive to communicate clearly with you our treatment plans at every visit - from what work is required, to how that work needs to be performed and the associated costs - so if you have any concerns, we aim to address these at the time. We are always on the end of the phone if you have more questions or queries, just give us a call.