Equine dental care | TSLN.com

Equine dental care

Loretta Sorensen

Photo by Loretta SorensenStudents at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, NE, learn the details of caring for equine teeth as part of their training. Equine dental problems can have a significant and negative impact on many aspects of equine performance and health.

If you haven’t scheduled a dental appointment for your horse lately – or maybe ever – Dr. Cory S. Reng recommends that you consider making dental checkups part of your horse’s general care plan.

“Probably 80 percent of horses have a dental issue that isn’t being treated,” Dr. Reng says. “A lot of horse owners just don’t think about dental problems until they see drooling and slobbering when horses eat or weight loss. If you think about how sensitive your own mouth is, and how bad you would be feeling if you waited to seek dental care until your problem was so bad that you were drooling or couldn’t chew your food, you understand how hard it is on horses to have to endure dental pain without treatment.”

Dr. Reng, who teaches equine dentistry at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, NE, says most veterinarians are undertrained in equine dentistry when they complete their degree.

“When I was in vet school, we were offered one day of floating horse’s teeth because I asked for that experience,” she says. “They dug out their float and kind of showed me what to do. At the end of the day, I felt I hadn’t learned nearly enough about taking care of a horse’s teeth. I started learning more about it on my own and did a lot of floating teeth on my own. I decided to make it my specialty when I was finishing my Nebraska license and learned that vet techs could float teeth under indirect supervision. I wondered then why in the world we weren’t teaching those techs how to do a good job of floating teeth.”

Veterinarians generally do the dental prophy for cats and dogs either. Their technicians handle those duties. Because her love for horses caused her to study veterinarian science in the first place, Dr. Reng decided she would specialize in equine dentistry.

“I decided it was something I could do to really benefit students and the horse population in general,” says Reng. “My students learn to sedate a horse heavily enough that they don’t mind having a power tool in the back of their mouth, but not so heavily that they can’s stand up.”

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Before Dr. Reng’s students are allowed to use a power tool to float teeth, they must learn the proper techniques using a manual file. The teeth are filed because modern diets aren’t abrasive enough to maintain the evenness of horse’s teeth. If the points are not floated, it could become painful for the horse to chew or hold a bit.

“Once my students learn the proper technique and have put some effort into doing a good job, we begin to work with a Dremel motor driven tool,” Dr. Reng says. “It’s on an extension that allows the student to place it in the back of a horse’s mouth and it has a variety of tips that can be used. It also has a cheek guard so you don’t catch the horse’s cheek while you’re working. It’s essential for anyone floating teeth to realize that a motorized floating tool can take a lot off a tooth in a short time. It’s easy to get carried away with it. That’s why I insist my students use hand tools. They have to work pretty hard to get every piece of tooth off and they learn to carefully monitor what they’re doing.”

Finding a reliable and knowledgeable equine dentist may require horse owners to clear some hurdles. Dr. Reng recommends using the International Association of Equine Dentists website at http://www.iaedglobal.com to find the nearest facility and certified professional.

Horse owners can take some precautions to avoid dental problems. Dr. Reng says use of overchecks often trigger dental issues.

“Oftentimes, the hooks on the upper cheek cause the horse’s teeth to cut into their lips,” she says. “Wolf teeth can cause problems too.”

The majority of yearlings being trained will have wolf teeth, which are the first upper pre-molars. They are vestigal, which means they are not as fully formed as the other pre-molars and don’t really have a function in the horse today like they probably did thousands of years ago. They’re located at the back of the interdental space, which is between the incisors and the molars. They are generally located just in front of the upper second pre-molar, which is the first tooth that actually looks like a molar.

The bottom arcade is where a bit lies in most performance horses. In racehorses, though, the bit tends to be up in the interdental space and hits the wolf teeth in the upper arcade.

“One of the things horse owners don’t think about is that the way race horses are trained, we expect them to pull on the bit,” Dr. Reng says. “If they have wolf teeth, that hampers the race horse’s ability to lean on any bit.”

Dr. Reng recommends that horse owners have their horses teeth checked on a regular basis when the baby teeth are coming in, which happens during the time the horse is between two and four years old.

“You may want to check them every six months at that age,” she says. “If there’s any problem with shedding those baby teeth, it could lead to real problems. You need to keep a close eye on teeth again once the horse reaches the age of eight or 10. They need to be checked yearly at that stage.

Overfloating teeth can cause as many problems as not floating them at all. Dr. Reng says a variety of problems can be triggered by taking too much off a horse’s teeth.

“Horses only have a certain amount of tooth to grow in their entire life,” she says. “When you’re floating a horse’s teeth, you want to make sure you’re always shortening front teeth incisors during the process. That’s most often the area that is overlooked. If cheek teeth are overfloated and incisors are too long, there’s no way the horse can grind their food. That’s why power tools in undertrained hands are a big problem. My dad made me learn how to use a hand saw before I was allowed to use a power saw. I’ve followed that same principle with my students and manual float tools.”

A number of health issues can be resolved or managed in horses if their teeth are properly maintained. Arthritis in the jaw can be minimized if teeth, especially incisors, are correctly cared for.

“I conduct an interesting test with my students every year,” she says. “I ask them to align their jaw so their teeth are not lined up. Then I ask them to stand on one foot. They always lose their balance when they’re doing that. If a person can’t balance on one foot when they’re jaw is out of line, how much harder is it for a horse to do high level athletic work when their jaw is out of line and they don’t even know why they’re out of balance.”

Dr. Reng notes that horses teeth go clear up under their eyes. The weight of their head and shape of their neck also affect any dental problems.

“A horse’s head weighs about 20 pounds,” Dr. Reng says. “Their head is at the end of a long lever, their neck, which can magnify dental problems even more in the horse than in people. Horses don’t get cavities as easily as people do, but if they do get a cavity, the tooth usually abscesses. If a horse eats high molasses feed, the sugar content will rot their teeth. Teeth fractures are fairly common and they tend to cause an abscess too. During our class each year we generally do about five or six extractions.”

Allowing horses to graze helps reduce dental concerns because it is a natural behavior for them. Incisors generally are worn down in a consistent and acceptable manner through the grazing process.

“If you have sandy soil and graze your horses, you could expect your horses to have very few dental concerns,” Dr. Reng says. “Genetic predisposition could play a part in dental concerns. If your horse has a lower narrow jaw and an upper wider jaw or an overbite, that’s going to add to dental concerns.”

It’s important to locate a skilled and certified equine dentist, one that is willing to explain how they’re treating your horse and help you learn how to provide good equine dental care.

“Check for credentials before you allow someone to float your horse’s teeth,” Dr. Reng says. “Both lay dentists and veterinarians can be very good or very bad dentists. The skill lies with the craftsman, not with the tools. A good equine dentist will not be concerned when you ask to look in your horse’s mouth to see what they plan to do or what they’ve already done. They’ll want you to run your hand over your horse’s teeth and understand how they’re correcting a dental problem. If your equine dentist doesn’t allow you to check your horse’s mouth after they’ve worked on their teeth, you should be concerned. People can get hurt when they put their hand in a horse’s mouth, but your dentist should want you to understand what they’re doing and not hide what they’ve done.”

Horse owners can take steps to educate themselves about equine dentistry, although some equine dental books are priced in the $200 range. Dr. Reng recommends “Equine Dentistry: A Practical Guide” by Patricia Pence. Dr. Kai Kreling has also authored a reference book titled “Horses’ Teeth and Their Problems: Prevention, Recognition and Treatment.”

If you haven’t scheduled a dental appointment for your horse lately – or maybe ever – Dr. Cory S. Reng recommends that you consider making dental checkups part of your horse’s general care plan.

“Probably 80 percent of horses have a dental issue that isn’t being treated,” Dr. Reng says. “A lot of horse owners just don’t think about dental problems until they see drooling and slobbering when horses eat or weight loss. If you think about how sensitive your own mouth is, and how bad you would be feeling if you waited to seek dental care until your problem was so bad that you were drooling or couldn’t chew your food, you understand how hard it is on horses to have to endure dental pain without treatment.”

Dr. Reng, who teaches equine dentistry at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, NE, says most veterinarians are undertrained in equine dentistry when they complete their degree.

“When I was in vet school, we were offered one day of floating horse’s teeth because I asked for that experience,” she says. “They dug out their float and kind of showed me what to do. At the end of the day, I felt I hadn’t learned nearly enough about taking care of a horse’s teeth. I started learning more about it on my own and did a lot of floating teeth on my own. I decided to make it my specialty when I was finishing my Nebraska license and learned that vet techs could float teeth under indirect supervision. I wondered then why in the world we weren’t teaching those techs how to do a good job of floating teeth.”

Veterinarians generally do the dental prophy for cats and dogs either. Their technicians handle those duties. Because her love for horses caused her to study veterinarian science in the first place, Dr. Reng decided she would specialize in equine dentistry.

“I decided it was something I could do to really benefit students and the horse population in general,” says Reng. “My students learn to sedate a horse heavily enough that they don’t mind having a power tool in the back of their mouth, but not so heavily that they can’s stand up.”

Before Dr. Reng’s students are allowed to use a power tool to float teeth, they must learn the proper techniques using a manual file. The teeth are filed because modern diets aren’t abrasive enough to maintain the evenness of horse’s teeth. If the points are not floated, it could become painful for the horse to chew or hold a bit.

“Once my students learn the proper technique and have put some effort into doing a good job, we begin to work with a Dremel motor driven tool,” Dr. Reng says. “It’s on an extension that allows the student to place it in the back of a horse’s mouth and it has a variety of tips that can be used. It also has a cheek guard so you don’t catch the horse’s cheek while you’re working. It’s essential for anyone floating teeth to realize that a motorized floating tool can take a lot off a tooth in a short time. It’s easy to get carried away with it. That’s why I insist my students use hand tools. They have to work pretty hard to get every piece of tooth off and they learn to carefully monitor what they’re doing.”

Finding a reliable and knowledgeable equine dentist may require horse owners to clear some hurdles. Dr. Reng recommends using the International Association of Equine Dentists website at http://www.iaedglobal.com to find the nearest facility and certified professional.

Horse owners can take some precautions to avoid dental problems. Dr. Reng says use of overchecks often trigger dental issues.

“Oftentimes, the hooks on the upper cheek cause the horse’s teeth to cut into their lips,” she says. “Wolf teeth can cause problems too.”

The majority of yearlings being trained will have wolf teeth, which are the first upper pre-molars. They are vestigal, which means they are not as fully formed as the other pre-molars and don’t really have a function in the horse today like they probably did thousands of years ago. They’re located at the back of the interdental space, which is between the incisors and the molars. They are generally located just in front of the upper second pre-molar, which is the first tooth that actually looks like a molar.

The bottom arcade is where a bit lies in most performance horses. In racehorses, though, the bit tends to be up in the interdental space and hits the wolf teeth in the upper arcade.

“One of the things horse owners don’t think about is that the way race horses are trained, we expect them to pull on the bit,” Dr. Reng says. “If they have wolf teeth, that hampers the race horse’s ability to lean on any bit.”

Dr. Reng recommends that horse owners have their horses teeth checked on a regular basis when the baby teeth are coming in, which happens during the time the horse is between two and four years old.

“You may want to check them every six months at that age,” she says. “If there’s any problem with shedding those baby teeth, it could lead to real problems. You need to keep a close eye on teeth again once the horse reaches the age of eight or 10. They need to be checked yearly at that stage.

Overfloating teeth can cause as many problems as not floating them at all. Dr. Reng says a variety of problems can be triggered by taking too much off a horse’s teeth.

“Horses only have a certain amount of tooth to grow in their entire life,” she says. “When you’re floating a horse’s teeth, you want to make sure you’re always shortening front teeth incisors during the process. That’s most often the area that is overlooked. If cheek teeth are overfloated and incisors are too long, there’s no way the horse can grind their food. That’s why power tools in undertrained hands are a big problem. My dad made me learn how to use a hand saw before I was allowed to use a power saw. I’ve followed that same principle with my students and manual float tools.”

A number of health issues can be resolved or managed in horses if their teeth are properly maintained. Arthritis in the jaw can be minimized if teeth, especially incisors, are correctly cared for.

“I conduct an interesting test with my students every year,” she says. “I ask them to align their jaw so their teeth are not lined up. Then I ask them to stand on one foot. They always lose their balance when they’re doing that. If a person can’t balance on one foot when they’re jaw is out of line, how much harder is it for a horse to do high level athletic work when their jaw is out of line and they don’t even know why they’re out of balance.”

Dr. Reng notes that horses teeth go clear up under their eyes. The weight of their head and shape of their neck also affect any dental problems.

“A horse’s head weighs about 20 pounds,” Dr. Reng says. “Their head is at the end of a long lever, their neck, which can magnify dental problems even more in the horse than in people. Horses don’t get cavities as easily as people do, but if they do get a cavity, the tooth usually abscesses. If a horse eats high molasses feed, the sugar content will rot their teeth. Teeth fractures are fairly common and they tend to cause an abscess too. During our class each year we generally do about five or six extractions.”

Allowing horses to graze helps reduce dental concerns because it is a natural behavior for them. Incisors generally are worn down in a consistent and acceptable manner through the grazing process.

“If you have sandy soil and graze your horses, you could expect your horses to have very few dental concerns,” Dr. Reng says. “Genetic predisposition could play a part in dental concerns. If your horse has a lower narrow jaw and an upper wider jaw or an overbite, that’s going to add to dental concerns.”

It’s important to locate a skilled and certified equine dentist, one that is willing to explain how they’re treating your horse and help you learn how to provide good equine dental care.

“Check for credentials before you allow someone to float your horse’s teeth,” Dr. Reng says. “Both lay dentists and veterinarians can be very good or very bad dentists. The skill lies with the craftsman, not with the tools. A good equine dentist will not be concerned when you ask to look in your horse’s mouth to see what they plan to do or what they’ve already done. They’ll want you to run your hand over your horse’s teeth and understand how they’re correcting a dental problem. If your equine dentist doesn’t allow you to check your horse’s mouth after they’ve worked on their teeth, you should be concerned. People can get hurt when they put their hand in a horse’s mouth, but your dentist should want you to understand what they’re doing and not hide what they’ve done.”

Horse owners can take steps to educate themselves about equine dentistry, although some equine dental books are priced in the $200 range. Dr. Reng recommends “Equine Dentistry: A Practical Guide” by Patricia Pence. Dr. Kai Kreling has also authored a reference book titled “Horses’ Teeth and Their Problems: Prevention, Recognition and Treatment.”