A visit from the equine dentist

Yesterday an equine dentist came to have a look at Minnie and Cassie’s teeth. To find a good equine dentist is as hard as finding a human dentist. One has to rely on word of mouth (excuse the pun). Minnie was last seen well over a year ago, but I had not been entirely happy with the result. She was very heavily sedated and it took her hours to come out of it, which I found very worrying. When a friend told me she had a very good dentist visiting her, I made an appointment.

The dentist, who is based in the UK, but makes regular trips to Ireland, was very friendly and explained how she works before we started. She takes a holistic approach, which I like, and doesn’t sedate horses unless it is an extreme case that requires work in conjunction with a vet. She says that with the right approach, most horses tolerate the work in their mouths, which proved to be the case with my two horses. She does most of the work with power tools, because that is actually gentler on the horses’ teeth than floating by hand.

Power tools of course require electricity. Unfortunately, I have no power in my yard, so the dentist set up outside the backdoor of the house where she had access to the sockets in the utility. I brought Cassie up with Minnie following us.

I have no idea if Cassie ever had her teeth checked before I got her, but judging by the state of her teeth that is highly unlikely. I suspected she might have some sharp teeth, because Cassie never liked her head touched and she didn’t like being bridled either, but I was unprepared for what the dentist found.

The dentist introduced herself to Cassie very nicely and gave her a few moments to get used to her before she put the speculum on. She waited until Cassie settled, then  she opened the speculum and explored her mouth. Not good. Cassie had very sharp teeth on both sides, with edges as sharp as razor blades and lacerations inside her cheeks. She had shear theeth on the left side and also some decay in her back teeth on the left. I was shocked. The dentist showed me and let me feel it for myself, and the teeth on the left side were so sharp that I nearly cut my fingers.

I asked what could have caused this as Cassie is only five. However, the dentist told me that it is not unusual even for young horses to have bad teeth, if the diet is wrong. She could have been fed haylage, which she said never to feed to horses, or heavily molassed hard feed, equally bad, and she might not have been fed from the ground. If a horse is not fed from the ground, it causes a multitude of problems. Fortunately I already feed my horses everything from the ground and they get a forage based feed without sugar or starch, but I can’t give Cassie anything acidic anymore, because it will aggravate the problem. No more apples…

Work on Cassie took a long time, but she took it, although the sound of the grinder worried her at first. Perhaps it actually helped that we were out in the open. Whenever Cassie needed to move, the dentist stopped so we could walk around a bit until she settled again. Minnie stayed close the whole time, picking at the grass or just watching. Half way through the rain came down, so Cassie got a break and we fled inside for a coffee to warm up again. I felt sorry for the dentist, she was working in short sleeves and the wind was freezing.

When the rain blew over I went outside to get Cassie again. She turned her head away from me and sighed, she knew what was coming, but she didn’t walk off and let me slip the headcollar back on. When she was finished, she walked off to the grass and began to graze. Then her head came up, she was moving her jaw and I could see the look on her face change from surprise to pure relief.

Minnie was next. The sound of the grinder made her more nervous than Cassie, but she tolerated the treatment as well. There was no panic. Like Minnie, Cassie stayed close to give moral support. To my relief Minnie’s teeth were in much better shape, except that the last dentist had neglected to do the last backteeth, which apparently is very common. Work on Minnie didn’t take as long, and soon enough she could join Cassie on the grass. They were happy to stay there and graze, a sure sign that neither of them felt stressed, or they would have moved away immediately.

Minnie is fine now for another year, Cassie will need more treatment in 4 months. In the mean time I need to get a flushing syringe and a mouthwash for her to help heal the decay.

It was beautiful early this morning when I went out to feed the horses. The sun had just come up above the hills and a fog was rising.  It had been a cold night and the frozen grass was sparkling. Minnie and Cassie were standing in the field shelter, waiting for their breakfast. I let them into the yard and put their buckets in their stables. Then I watched them eat. Cassie’s jaw was moving from side to side effortlessly. There was an air of contentment. I am very happy to have found a good dentist for them.

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4 thoughts on “A visit from the equine dentist

  1. That’s great that you found a good dentist. Years ago, we had a great guy who would float teeth with no drugs and no restraining equipment. The horses actually seemed to enjoy it. Then in Mississippi, it was the vet who did teeth, and he always wanted the horses drugged, and he used one of those clamp things which goes in the horse’s mouth and forces it to stay open. Did your vet use one of those? If the horse is cooperative, I think they’re totally unnecessary.

    When I had my wisdom teeth out, the dentist only used local anaesthesia. Nowadays the fashion seems to be that they like to knock the patient out. I really think it makes the dentist less careful, and the patient comes out feeling much more like they’ve been hit by a truck. I bet it’s the same with horses – that using no drugs makes the dentist more gentle and careful.

    It’s wonderful that you could see Cassie’s reaction to having a new mouth from the expression on her face. Horses are so stoical.

    Beautiful photo of the sunrise!

  2. This dentist did use a speculum, which is one of those head collar things with a mouth clamp. She says that it’s impossible to see the back teeth without one, which proved to be the case with Minnie: the guy who did her last year had not done her back teeth and he had no excuse because he sedated her!

    Cassie needed a lot of treatment yesterday, and will have to be seen regularly from now on, as the problems couldn’t be fixed in one go. Because it took so long, it was probably more comfortable for her to have the clamp in, as her mouth stayed in one position. She got lots of little breaks, so on the whole she stayed quite calm. I think it helped that we were out in the open too, the horses didn’t feel trapped and it was nice to see them stay close while the other was having treatment.

    I agree with you that by not using aneasthetics, the dentist has to be more gentle and careful. And aneasthetics take a long time to leave the system, so I’m glad we don’t have to deal with that. Minnie was wiped out after it last year, and I didn’t like it.

    Like you, I had my wisdom teeth out with only a local and it was grand. Recovery time is so much shorter!

  3. Thanks, Maíre. It was fabulous to watch her discover she could chew freely. The state of her mouth explains why she couldn’t tolerate the cross under bridle and didn’t like her head touched. It must have been a torment to her!

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