Myths and misconceptions about comprehensive equine dentistry
by Lincoln Rogers
This is the second part of a two part series on equine dentistry.
Since the 1990s, advances have been made in the methods and tools used for equine oral health, but myths and misconceptions still remain among horse owners and practitioners who hold outdated views on the subject.
Raising awareness and educating against those myths is an ongoing process for experienced professionals in the field.
“We are still at a point where many horseman have been indoctrinated in an older philosophy on dentistry to think that floating a horse’s teeth is equal to dental care, (but) those are two different things” said Dr. Jack Easley of Easley Equine Dentistry in Shelbyville, Ky. Easley is a recognized expert in the equine dentistry field, with a resume that includes 30-plus years of lecturing and promoting equine veterinary dentistry throughout the world and serving on the editorial review boards for Equine Veterinary Education, Equine Veterinary Journal and the Veterinary Dental Journal.
• MYTH: Floating a horse’s teeth is all the dental work they need.
“Floating a horse’s teeth is taking off some sharp enamel points and all horses have sharp enamel points,” Easley said. “You are not diagnosing dental disease by floating the teeth. It is like brushing your teeth and thinking you are never going to have a cavity or a cracked tooth or periodontal disease. (Horses) are still going to have problems because of crooked teeth, teeth that are out of place, teeth that don’t develop normally, or a cracked tooth, and those don’t get diagnosed with a routine floating. With a good detailed oral exam you can identify most of those problems early on and get them treated before the horse is showing outward signs of dental disease.”
“There is a big difference between equine dentistry and floating,” said. Scott Marx of Advance Equine Dentistry, a mobile equine dentistry business located near Parker, Colo. Marx earned a degree from Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995 and started his company in 2000. He lectures and conducts equine dentistry seminars for veterinarians and veterinary students internationally and is also licensed in Australia. “Technically, floating means just to smooth off sharp points, (but) the most important part of the dental appointment is the examination.”
That oral examination by experienced equine practitioners takes time and is targeted by one of the myths regarding equine dentistry.
• MYTH: A good veterinarian doesn’t need to use sedation and/or a good horse doesn’t need to be sedated for dental work.
“It is impossible,” said Easley about doing a thorough oral exam without sedating the horse. “You can’t have the horse relax with a mouth speculum in and the mouth opened wide and be able to go in with a dental mirror and examine the teeth in detail. There is no way anybody can do that on an unsedated horse. You can do a cursory examination on an unsedated horse and say that the horse has a problem, but you can never say a horse doesn’t have a problem with an unsedated oral exam.”
“(People) gauge the quality of the work based on whether or not they use sedation,” said Marx about the myth. “I could work without sedation, but I would do a bad job. If we are going to do a true examination, we have to sedate the horse, we have to put on a full mouth speculum, we have to have on a bright light and we have to use a mirror. If we don’t do that, it is not that we may miss things, but we WILL miss things.”
Equine dentistry myths also include updated methods and instruments.
• MYTH: Motorized instruments take off too much tooth or they cause thermal damage to teeth.
“People that either don’t understand the instruments or learn how to use them perpetuate this myth,” Marx said. “A motorized instrument does not take off too much tooth, the operator does. If the operator knows what they are doing, it is actually gentler on teeth than a hand instrument. If we are using a disc like you will see us use (tools with water cooling and suction), it is much gentler and I can go up into the mouth and see a spot on a tooth and I can go in and feather it quickly. One study showed it took at least 2 1/2 minutes on one tooth before the tooth would heat up, and this is with a non-irrigated instrument, while another study showed somewhere around 35 seconds per tooth. We have timed this and typically we are on a tooth for 1 to 2 seconds.”
“I think the thing people need to keep in mind is these better designed, more efficient power tools used by a properly trained individual are extremely precise instruments that can do really high quality work in the mouth,” Easley said. “You can damage horses with power tools if you use them indiscriminately or overdo what you are attempting to do — the same kind of damage hand floats can do if you are not careful and precise — but what they have allowed us to do is very precise, good quality dental work, much better than we could do when we just had hand tools at our disposal.”
Easley also addressed how current methods and tools should make the process positive for the horse.
“When you get through doing an oral exam and doing a routine dental floating or correction of any dental wear abnormalities that the horse has, the horse should always be more comfortable the day after you do that, not painful the day after you do it,” he said. “It doesn’t cause the horse to be uncomfortable or the mouth to bleed or anything like that to do this work. If that is the case then you are not being very careful with what you are doing. Horses should eat better the next day, not worse the next day.”
“We spend a lot of time on owner education,” said Marx about their appointments. “We want them to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. We really like it when the owner is there, because we want to show them what we are doing. If horse owners understand what we are doing and why, and they have seen it, then they understand the importance of it.”
“It is an important area of equine health, and most owners never see inside the horse’s mouth,” Easley said. “I think that is one of the reasons why there are so many myths and so much superstition about equine dentistry is because somebody can float a horse and tell an owner anything and they will never know the difference because they never look in the mouth. I think it is important that horse owners understand why their horses should have regular checkups and have their teeth taken care of on a regular basis.” ❖
— Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer located east of Parker, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find him on Facebook at Official Lincoln Rogers Writing & Photography Page.
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