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equine dentistry

Sarah Metcalf DVM
Excellent equine dentistry can be done, and is done, by both veterinarians
and technicians. As a veterinarian whose practice emphasizes dentistry,
I'd like to add a few comments to the current discussion of the subject.
These comments reflect my personal point of view, my opinions and my
preferences; and are based on my training and experience. Other
practitioners might have different viewpoints.

First, it surprised me that several people mentioned dental work being
done without sedation:

1. A full-mouth speculum is necessary for a complete examination. Failure
to do a complete exam will result in problems....sometimes serious...being
missed.  Use of a speculum without sedation entails increased risk to both
horse and handler.
2. Without sedation, certain assessments cannot be made
(lateral excursion, time of molar occlusion during lateral excursion, and
evaluation of the molar interocclusal space)....simply because these tests
have to be done with the horse's incisors CLOSED....and unsedated horses
invariably open their mouths in response to even the gentlest fingers
touching their lips, gums and muzzles.
3. While credit should always be given to tactful and successful
horsehandlers, I think it is a mistake to glorify the failure to use
tranquilization for dentistry. I have the horse rest it's head on a padded
headstand, and I want it to "sleep" comfortably through the procedure.
Personally, I think that dentistry is FUN, and I try to convince both
horse and owner to share this attitude; but realistically it is probably
not  all that much "fun" for most horses. Keeping the horse relaxed and
comfortable minimizes stress.
4. Bear in mind that we are doing detailed, precise work with motorized
instruments, working deep in the horses' mouth. This requires that the
horse hold quite still. (No moving targets!)
5. The majority of horses who have not had regular dental care, have
painful ulcers and small lacerations on the inside of their cheeks at the
back of their mouths. It is not comfortable for them when we have to work
in this already-damaged area with dental tools; sedation provides some
pain relief and allows this work to be done quickly and efficiently.
(Fortunately, the mouth heals very quickly once the offending sharp teeth
are made smooth.)
6. The vast majority of horses that I see wake up quickly from sedation
and experience no side effects..

When choosing a dentist for your horses, I would suggest that you look for
a person who:

1. Does a complete exam with a full-mouth speculum.
2. Will let you see and feel what is happening with your horses' teeth,
and will explain it.
3. Has access to motorized instrumentation: while it is theoretically
possible to correct waves, hooks, steps; do bit seats and even incisor
bite re-alignments with hand tools, it is MUCH easier and faster to do it
with power tools. The result is a more precise job, and a horse who gets
out of the dentist's chair (so-to-speak) that much sooner.
4. Will leave you with a copy of a written dental chart which details the
condition of the horse's teeth and the work that was done.

Cost:....hmm...$40-50?? This is actually very low. I recently had the
opportunity to do routine maintenance on several horses who had been done
previously by Tony Basile, a nationally-known certified dental technician
(not a DVM). These horses had BEAUTIFUL teeth and required minimal work to
maintain. When I looked through the dental charts that Mr. Basile had left
with the owners, I noticed that his fees were higher than mine. (Oh
well! )  Most people, when allowed to see and understand what is being
done, appreciate the value of the work.

Sarah Metcalf DVM

PS. For more info on this subject, check out Dr. Tom Allen's web site:  It is very entertaining and readable.

PPS. The float with the little round grinder: this is actually a GREAT
tool. Concern about maintaining desired angles (10-15 degrees) of the
molar grinding surfaces is legitimate, but I am convinced that with
careful use and attentiveness, this can be done with rotary instruments.
This tool is VERY gentle to soft tissues, allows both operator and
observer good visibility, and is great for getting the painful sharp upper
points in back, as well as hooks on the lower back molars. (NO I don't
sell them, I just BOUGHT one...and it was rather expensive!)

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