What Ed Can Tell By Looking At A Horse's Teeth
The horse's age
Since the teeth are literally ground down at a relatively predictable rate, we can read the wear patterns on the flat surfaces of the incisors for a reasonably accurate aging through the mid teens. Past this, changes such as angulation of the incisors, position of the Galvayne's groove and molar loss can be utilized to establish an approximate age.
How long it has been since dental work was done
The severity of general hooks and barbs, the length of eruption on unopposed molars, the length of frontal hooks and the presence of ramping or waving on the molar tables are all good indicators for determining previous dental care.
The percentage of grinding capability left
Grinding capability boils down to simply a function of how well the flat surfaces of the top molars meet the flat surfaces of the bottom molars. This is affected by molar loss, broken teeth or the existence of "waves" in the molar surfaces. The percentage of grinding capability dictates how well your horse can utilize the absolutely necessary fibers in the diet. It follows that this will dictate how you will need to tailor your feeding program to ensure adequate digestible fibers.
Conformation and bite issues
Just as people have distinct bite issues defined by conformation of the jaw, injury or improper tooth eruption, the same abnormalities are present in horses. Evaluation of these conditions can be extremely valuable in planning a dental care program or establishing a suitable diet.
What Does Routine Dental Care Consist Of?
Visual and Tactile Observation
By both looking at and thoroughly feeling of the teeth, cheek tissue and gum tissue we identify any problems such as hooks, barbs or broken teeth which could be causing or contributing to discomfort or malocclusion.
Eliminating discomfort from sharp points by floating
Floating simply utilizes specially designed rasps or "floats" to smooth the outer edges of the molars thereby elimimating discomfort and encouraging the full grinding motion. Our domestic horses tend to have a much less abrasive diet than horses in the wild would encounter. This lack of abrasion tends to require less grinding motion for mastication and develop excessive hooks and barbs.
Maximizing grinding by smoothing molar surfaces
Once the discomfort is eliminated, we need to get the flat surfaces of the molars meeting as close to 100% as possible for maximum grinding. This process of overlooked in many dental exams.
What Tools Does Ed Use?
Since Ed performs basic dentistry without sedation ( there are no nerve endings in teeth and therefore it can be a painless experience) hand floats are a must. You do not want a power tool in your horses mouth unless the horse is tranquilized to the point of immobility.
Full Mouth Speculum
This device holds the mouth open by means of steel plates between the top and bottom incisors. Once the plates are between the incisors and the horse is allowed to relax, the mouth can be opened to the desired point and held open by ratchets on the side of the device. The mouth should only be open wide enough to allow thorough inspection and access to all teeth but never so wide as to stress the temporal mandibular joint.
Specialized Designed Forceps
Stainless steel forceps of various designs to access molars, wolf teeth and fragmented teeth are necessary for a thorough job.
An anti-viral, anti-bacterial solution is added to the water which is used for rinsing the mouth and rinsing tools between use.
Why Is Tooth Care So Important?
Promote grinding for overall health
Horses generate a large majority of their calories from fiber which is primarily digested in the intestinal tract. These primary fiber sources such as hay and grasses cannot be properly broken down and digested unless they are virtually totally pulverized in the mouth. The ability to grind is absolutely essential under normal diet conditions.
Eliminate pain and discomfort
Like people, a horse's attitude can be greatly effected by constant pain or discomfort. In addition, pain and discomfort in the mouth can discourage the full side to side motion of the lower jaw which in turn cuts down the effectiveness of proper grinding even if the molar surfaces are meeting correctly.
If a horse has sharp points on the outer edges of the incisors, any pressure applied to the side of the face from a bit, side pull halter, etc. is pressing the tender cheek tissue directly into these sharp points. This will cause the horse to resist the pressure and in the very least will take their mind off of the task at hand. Performance can be greatly enhanced with regular, proper dental care.
More information on this and other topics is available on Ed's DVD:
The Owner's Guide to Horse Teeth & Equine Dental Care.