Monday, April 1, 2013

Would you go to your GP for dental work?

Oz would like to know, how much will the tooth fairy leave him?  Because after his day with the dentist, he surely believes he deserves something!

We had a gal from Oregon come up to the Cowboy's barn to do some work on Thursday.  In the past we've had different vets do our dental work.  They've come and slung a rope up over a beam in the stall door, then we'd stand the horse in the stall doorway, and the rope would be attached to their halter.  This would hold the head up where the vet was able to work easily on the teeth.

When I asked where the dentist would like to work on the horses (stall, alleyway), she said she'd like to have a corner somewhere with good light.  I assumed she must have a stand which the horse could rest it's head.  Nope.  She had me.  I was the helper, the head holder, the one who was expected to keep the horse's head where it was supposed to be so she could work.  

She explained to us that she'd seen horses get their heads pulled up so high that they'd had strokes, and decided a long time ago that she really didn't need to work like that.  So a head holder, aka human assistant, was what she used.

Tools of the dental trade sit inside a bucket of water

On Thursday, Doxee was the first to be done.  We knew it'd been a few years since her teeth had been looked at, so it was no surprise to hear that her teeth had a lot of ridges, hooks, flares and waves.  What was a surprise was when she told me to put my hand up there to feel.  No one had ever had me do that before!  But with Doxee wearing that special dental mouth piece (called a spreader bar) that kept her teeth from crunching down on me, I happily reached up to feel what the dentist felt.  

I was amazed at how far back I had to reach.  I mean...I've seen skulls and know those are long faces, but reaching up inside, I expected to get to the teeth sooner.  Leslie reached up there with various tools while I propped up Doxee's head, grinding and filing until it was all smooth.  Then she did something I'd never seen a vet do...she sawed off the front teeth!  

Okay, she didn't saw them off, but she did saw off 1/8" or so.  The reason for this was that while the top and bottom teeth in the front met up, her molars in the back had a big gap.  They'd been filed down...they didn't meet up.  The only way to make them meet up so that Doxee could chew her food was to alter the length of the front teeth as well.  

Doxee was the first of six horses that day.  Most were in worse condition than Doxee, which came as a shock since three of them had just come in from a big training barn.  The molars on a couple were so full of ridges that their cheeks were ripped up.  

Oz is always playing with his tongue

By the end of the day on Thursday, I was beat.  Holding heads all day is hard work!  I'm not sure how Leslie's back holds up to doing that much dental work in a day, or more!  She's been an equine dentist for 16 years now, however, so maybe she's used to it?

Today she came back to do five more, one of whom was Oz.  We elected to start with the older horses, knowing that they'd be the harder ones.  One mare had just been done 6 months ago.  Once again, she had me put my hand up inside the mouth.  I was could it be so bad in such a short amount of time?  According to Leslie, many vets simply don't know how to properly care for teeth.  How would they, she asked?  That's not what they've been trained to do.  They get a little bit of training for a wide variety of things, but nothing in depth like a specialist.  

Which makes perfect sense, right?  Would you go to your general practitioner for your dental work?  Probably not.  So why should we trust our horse's mouths to someone who hasn't had the in depth training of an equine dentist?

Oz, being a baby, is losing baby teeth.  He also still had his wolf teeth.  I've been wondering if the reason he's always got his tongue out is due to dental issues.  Of late, he's also begun to lose some weight.  Leslie confirmed that the weight was almost certainly due to him losing teeth right now.  She told me to expect the same in about another year.  She took a look up inside his mouth and commented on his big wolf teeth.  That didn't surprise me; every vet who's pulled wolf teeth on a mustang always comments on the size.  Oz's wolf teeth were not only large, but they were sharp and pointed.  No wonder they call them wolf teeth...they look like they should be inside the mouth of a dog!

Further back, Oz had one loose tooth and one that seemed to be stuck; it should have come out but instead was jammed in their between teeth.  That, we decided, was why he was always sticking that tongue out.  "It's like the world's biggest popcorn kernel," said Leslie, "and he's trying to push it out with his tongue."

Three pairs of teeth; the wolf teeth on the left, baby molars on the right, 
and in the center filings from the front teeth.

We'd thought that Oz would be the last, but the Cowboy asked Leslie if she could look at a mare who was just done a few weeks ago.  Seems she had some head issues, so they had a vet come and work on her.  After he left, she had a whole new set of issues with her bit.  Leslie slipped the spreader bar inside the mare's mouth and took a quick feel of her teeth.  She turned to me and said, "Reach up in their and tell me what you feel."

I reached inside, and the first tooth felt like it'd been filed.  I reached further back, and began feeling ridges and hooks on both sides, top and bottom.  I turned to look at Leslie, who was shaking her head.  "It feels like they just did the first tooth," I told her.  So rather than being done with Oz, I found myself holding one more head.

It was long day with horse's heads propped up on my shoulders, or resting in my arms, or my arms stuck up inside mouths.  Things I learned; never trust a vet to do a dentist's work, performance horses need to be checked every 6 months, and never tell your three year old the tooth fairy will come if they lose a tooth in the process because they quickly add up the fact that they just lost four.


Karen Burch said...

I use an equine dental specialist too, because they are the only ones who know to file down the front teeth. My Ashke was done a year ago by a regular vet but he was done this year by an equine dentist. Syd, the dentist, showed me how his jaw was completely locked up because the incisors weren't lowered. I'm hoping he will be much softer now to the bit, more willing to flex at the poll. His jaw is moving freely now and I was really happy with her approach.

Anonymous said...

I use a fabulous equine dentist - in fact he's coming this week. He doesn't use power tools, and also doesn't use slings or head stands - in fact he kneels on the ground in front of the horse as he works.

He pays a lot of attention to the incisors - most vets and dentists don't - because how they align affects everything - how the horse chews and also how the TMJs work - this affects the entire body of the horse. He's also very cautious with older horses - many of them have mouths that are too smooth due to over floating - this leads to poor chewing and poor digestion and weight loss.

Shirley said...

Just had Rio done by an equine dentist, I was surprised how much a 2 year old needs done. Next time he's here I'll get Gussie done. She was last done by a vet, (not when I owned her) and I know she really needs a good professional job done.

Kara said...

I must comment on here because I am a veterinary student studying that "everything" but I have a huge interest in dentistry. It is possible to find a vet that is extremely competent with teeth! I've studied under several of them! Some of the "older" vets learned to do teeth without a speculum (or mouth spreader) and don't realize that without one you can't really get at the back teeth. Dentistry is a field that has advanced a lot in the last 10 years and as such requires vets and equine dentists alike to keep up with the current knowledge. Vets can do a professional job too! And vets have the added knowledge of additional anatomy beyond just teeth, like the nerves, lymphatics, sinuses and how all these things can be affected by dentition. And also, the molars are NOT supposed to meet when the incisors are closed and lined up. It is the lateral excursion of the jaw that causes the molars to meet and produce the shearing force that grinds food. It would be very bad if the incisors were ground down to the point that the molars DID meet when the incisors were closed and lined up. Please just don't discount your vet with a real interest in the horse's mouth for doing dentistry. There are some other issues in the mouth...various diseases and such that probably only your vet knows about too.

Kara said...

Also, vets DO file down incisors when necessary. It's really only necessary when they are not even, or have hooks on them that prevent the jaw from moving smoothly laterally.

cheyenne jones said...

Have to agree with the writers comment "never get a gp to do dentistry". So for my twopence worth,in the past, I didnt know any better. We are talking a considerable time ago!!
So several yers ago i was having trouble with an older mare. She would drop food, continually try to tilt her head and shake it, whenever a bit was put in. The horse was on loan to me at the time. So a friend suggested a gent who was an ED, he came along and took a look see. He did the same to me, "have a look in here!" "Pyt your hand up in here and feel!" The teeth edges were as sharp as razors!" Plus her cheeks were cut to bits! Several hours later, and an aching shoulder to boot! It was all done.
A few days later, and we tried her usual bit, what a difference! From then on, she was a dream to ride. No tantrums etc. So I have all mine done now at least once a year, and it pays to do so!

Tracey said...

Sounds like most of you have had the veterinary experiences that I have had. Glad y'all have been looking to improve your horse's overall health by choosing an equine dentist!

Kara, I'm sure there are those who may have a better grasp, but I'll tell you what...even here with the vets that I love, they use all the new equipment but still mess up the teeth. Putting my hand up into a mouth of two different horses yesterday, one done six months ago and another who'd only been done a month ago, and finding their cheeks all ripped up and the teeth in horrible condition, I can't say I'd trust many vets anymore at this point.

Paint Girl said...

My vet specializes in equine dentistry so I never worry about them getting done by my regular vet. But I have heard that about a lot of vets, that they don't get much training in dentistry. When I had Chance's wolf teeth pulled, my vet couldn't believe how small they were, they were tiny!!!
That is awesome you got to stick your hand up in their mouths and feel around. I always watch at what is my vet is doing, but have never been able to feel around. I will have to ask my vet if I can do that next time!

Ranch Girl Diaries said...

Great post Tracey. By mid summer I want to have Luna's teeth looked at (and My Boy's too, it's been a few years.) Since she is 3 and I want to bridle her more this year, I am assuming I will need to have the wolf teeth pulled and make sure all is well with everything else. I will probably haul them in to the vet because they have the stock area inside and the best equipment there for working. Head-holding has to be tough on the body- those heads are heavy, esp. on a sedated horse! Way to be a great helper, and it turned out to be a good learning experience, too!

jeremy said...

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