Friday, November 6, 2009

Equine Dentistry

The dental health needs of horses are often one of the last things an owner thinks about in terms of their horse’s care. However, just as with humans, it’s one of the most important basic health issues to be considered in terms of their overall health. A horse’s dental health can impact their nutrition, head and facial comfort, attitude toward work, effective bitting, and, or poor overall movement and ability to collect.

Cassidy recently had difficulty with her barrel horse prospect, Vegas. Although he was good minded and physically in good shape, he frequently turned his head to the side, struggled with the bit, and had difficulty collecting himself as he moved out. She didn’t know whether to suspect an old splint as the problem because head and bitting issues can be a result of problems with feet and lower legs; or if it were a dental health issue which creates the same problems with his head, his cooperation, and busyness with the bit.

In hopes of finding an answer to Vegas’ inconsistent behavior, Cassidy made an appointment with a local vet, Courtney Diehl, who also does equine dentistry. In addition to being trained as a veterinarian, Courtney trained under Jack Easley, a well known veterinarian from Shelbyville, Kentucky, who is a leader in equine dentistry. Courtney first evaluated Vegas for outward signs of confirmation problems or apparent lameness issues. She then asked Cassidy to ride Vegas in the arena in order to determine if the gait and collection issues might be structural or true lameness issues. After watching him stride out, Courtney concluded the issue was most likely a dental health issue.

Horses’ teeth grow continuously during their lifetime. When horses graze on foods, such as hay grasses, the high content of fibrous tissues naturally grind their teeth down and keep pace with their growth. If a horse is eating a less fibrous diet or has genetic dental issues, the surfaces of its teeth can be become uneven with points or sharp edges developing on the perimeters of the teeth. This impacts the ability of the jaw to move smoothly laterally and the problem becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The points prevent correct movement and the incorrect movement adds to more uneven wear and greater development of the points.

In order to work on Vegas’ teeth, Courtney gave him a sedative and then put a speculum into his mouth to keep it open and make it safe for her to work. She said if you don’t, it’s the easiest way to break an arm if you’re not careful. Once she began the oral exam, she knew immediately there were multiple points on his teeth and found ulcers on both sides of his cheeks created by the constant irritation of the points rubbing against them. Cassidy also examined Vegas and was shocked to feel how sharp the points were: sharp enough to cut fingers if rubbed just right.

Courtney began her work by using hand rasps, called floats, hence the term “floating teeth.” She used a combination of hand rasps and a power drill rasp to file down the points. She was very careful to file just enough and not too much. She felt the combination of the hand rasps and the power drill rasp offers her the best control in her work.

When Courtney felt satisfied with her filing, she re-examined Vegas and asked Cassidy to do the same. She thought there was a pretty good chance that floating his teeth would resolve Vegas’ bitting, gait, and collection issues. If it doesn’t make a significant difference, it’s important she completes a further evaluation.

Cassidy certainly hopes Vegas’ movement, behavior, and general comfort improve. Bred to the AQHA World Champion Barrel Horse, Designer Red, and Mighty, our all-time favorite Jet Deck mare, Cassidy is looking forward to training him to be her next top barrel racing horse.

For more information on Dr. Diehl, go to:

For an interview with Dr. Easley on equine dentistry, go to:

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