This was dentist week for two of my equine charges, Ginger the draft mare and Junior the Quarter Horse gelding. In their first appointments with equine dentist Jana Echols last year, both had serious issues basically from lack of proper routine dental care. I was very happy to get good reports on both this year and improved mobility of Ginger’s mouth, which had been impeded for several years.
Yes, that’s right: several years. Why? Because despite routine spring and fall vet exams (at which I requested the owner specifically ask about dental issues) she had a top tooth that wasn’t being ground evenly and was, instead, protruding into the space below where a tooth was overly worn. Not something that should have been missed and very obvious to Jana the first time she examined the big mare’s mouth.
Very frustrating, both from a general welfare perspective and in the problems it has caused in the horse’s training, but not that unusual a story. I have known quite a number of vets who dislike dental work, in past because using the hand tools is quite physically taxing and now perhaps because they aren’t adept with the new power tools. And I’ve known a couple of otherwise good horse vets who would go to great lengths to avoid even the most routine floating.
To be fair, some vets are just plain bad dentists. And it’s not entirely their fault: the average vet-school curriculum doesn’t include much time for specialties such as dentistry. One newly trained vet told me a few years ago her program included only a half day of practical instruction in floating teeth and only those students who intended to pursue horse-specialty practices actually got to do any hands-on work.
If at all possible where you live, find a veterinarian who specializes in equine dentistry or a well-trained lay dentist. They have better tools, more up-to-date knowledge and are genuinely interested in your horse’s dental health. And please, if your vet brushes you off when you ask about teeth or has told you for more than a year or two that your horses teeth are “fine” – especially if you have either health or training issues that could be caused by mouth pain/discomfort – check for dental problems yourself or get another opinion.
(Find more information about the importance of good equine dentistry.)