Benefits of comprehensive equine dentistry |

Benefits of comprehensive equine dentistry

Fifteen-year-old Camelot is stalled, sedated, and looked after by vet technician Marisa DeMattia while Dr. Kari Sanderson, seated, performs a comprhensive oral exam before working on the horse's teeth. Advance Equine Dentistry encourages horse owners to be present and watch everything that is happening in the exam, in order to be better educated about equine oral health and to see thier horse's mouths in person. Camelot's owner, Dr. Tamarah Rodrigeuz, bottom right, was present for the appointment.
Photo by Lincoln Rogers

Common Signs Your Horse May Need Dental Care:

Loss of body condition

Difficulty chewing/head tilt

Dropping feed/quidding

Excessive salivation

Large undigested feed particles in manure

Dunking hay in water

Nasal discharge

Foul nasal/oral odor

Facial swellings

Head tossing/biting problems/resisting

Poor performance

Comprehensive Equine Dentistry:

It Will –

Relieve oral pain

Extend tooth life

It May –

Improve chewing ability/feed efficiency

Result in weight gain

Improve performance

Resolve biting issues

This is part one of a two part article about equine dentistry. Part two of this series will focus on the myths and misunderstandings regarding modern comprehensive equine dentistry.

As cars, trucks and tractors took over horses’ jobs in the early 20th century, the emphasis on ensuring the health of a horse’s mouth declined.

According to veterinarians specializing in comprehensive equine dentistry and oral health, by the late 20th century, quite a bit of experiential knowledge was lost.

“Back in the late 1800s, equine dentistry was pretty high quality because of all the horses being used for power transportation and field work,” said Dr. Scott Marx of Advance Equine Dentistry based out of Parker, Colo. “A lot of what we are doing is not new, (but) it kind of started being rediscovered, if you want to call it that.”

Marx started his mobile practice that focused on comprehensive equine dentistry in 2000. Before that, he was an army officer and paratrooper who then moved on to earn a degree from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995. In that timeframe leading up to starting his own practice, Marx experienced and observed a lack of knowledge and focus in the field regarding comprehensive care of a horse’s mouth.

“In the 1990s, we started looking at it again,” Marx said. “The problem in the early stages of us relearning equine dentistry is we didn’t know as much as we thought we knew, so we did a lot of things we shouldn’t have, at the time. We looked at the teeth like a block of wood rather than as living tissue (and) we looked at it oftentimes as there was a set standard that every mouth should look like. We had our set of criteria and every horse was going to follow that criteria when we were done. The problem with that is that every horse’s head isn’t the same. So things we might have done then, we are not going to do now. Back then, we didn’t know any better. Now we do, or at least we should. Unfortunately, some people are still stuck back in the 1990s and doing things we shouldn’t do.”

Although the techniques, tools, and knowledge in the field of equine dentistry are much advanced from the mid-1990s, the team of Marx and Dr. Kari Sanderson in their mobile equine dentistry business still works hard at educating and raising the awareness of horse owners about the importance and benefits of comprehensive equine dentistry. Sedating a horse, resting the horse’s head on a pad, using a speculum to keep their mouths open, employing lights, scopes, and motorized tools are all a part of current practices by veterinarians like Marx and Sanderson. As an expert in the field of comprehensive equine dentistry — Marx lectures and conducts equine dentistry seminars for veterinarians and veterinary students internationally and is also licensed in Australia — his experience is valued in the field.


“One of the reasons for routine maintenance on a horse — I am going to say this assuming the dental work is done thoroughly and completely and not just somebody scraping a rasp on a tooth — is we know we are going to relieve pain,” Marx said. “We are eliminating the pain from cuts on the cheek and cuts in the tongue. Another aspect is we can make the teeth last longer,” he added. “If we see a tooth that is starting to get over long, we can take that back. If we take down an overgrowth, the opposite tooth will grow out and it will balance out between the top and bottom. Once we get those teeth evened out, that will distribute the chewing forces across the rest of the arcade (rows of teeth). If we equalize those chewing forces across all the arcades, it actually slows down the eruption rate, so it lasts longer that way. Plus we are preventing premature wear of the teeth.”

Adding to the benefits Marx knows more comprehensive equine dentistry will provide, he also described benefits he believes better equine oral health may provide.

“We may increase handling of the horse,” he said. “Oftentimes what will happen with a performance horse, and this varies among horses, (but) if they start getting a little discomfort in their mouth, they are going to fight the bit. And when you are talking about winning or losing by hundredths of a second, you just lost. So we have a lot of people with performance horses, as soon as the horse isn’t doing as well as it did, we will come in and work on the teeth and the performance will go back to what it was. Whether it is barrel racers, hunter jumpers, dressage or western, we see that a lot.”

Another benefit of proper equine oral health concerns feed.

“Another thing, if they can chew better, you are going to have a higher feed efficiency,” Marx said. “So not only do they have the potential to gain weight, but they also decrease feed bills because they are not going through as much hay.”

“We make such a difference with so many horses,” said Sanderson, who obtained her doctorate degree from CSU in 2012 and has been working with Marx the last six years. What I like best about doing this is knowing we are doing right by the horse and being able to recognize little things that can make such a big difference. I enjoy being able to help the horses in that respect.” Others in the field also stress the importance of comprehensive equine dentistry.

“I think it is the thing I do that relieves more pain for horses than any other procedure,” said Dr. Marc McCall, a veterinarian with 35 years’ experience and who works out of Cherry Creek Equine in Elizabeth, Colo. “It is an essential part of owning a horse and I think it is a hidden part of the horse to a lot of people.”

“It is pretty dang important,” agreed Ashley Konig, an experienced Veterinary Technician with Colorado State University’s Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service team. “We use a scope to actually look in a mouth here at CSU, so we catch a lot of stuff. If you can catch things early, it is much better for the horses, as then it doesn’t involve a sinus situation. A lot of times we have to do sinus flushes, as their teeth have abscessed up into their sinus cavity. With equine dentistry, preventative care is key.” ❖