Does every horse that you see undergo a dental exam? Is a complete oral exam including the use of sedation, a full-mouth speculum,
a good headlight and a dental mirror part of your yearly preventative maintenance program? Do you include a complete oral
exam as a part of all your pre-purchase exams? If you answered "Yes" to these questions, then you are, unfortunately, in the
minority of equine practitioners today.
Many equine veterinarians are missing out on the satisfaction of greatly helping the horse by increasing comfort, improving
performance, enhancing the longevity of useful teeth, educating clients and expanding the quality of practice provided by
a good dentistry service. As the primary healthcare provider, you are obligated to do a thorough oral exam, diagnose any problems
and develop a plan for treatment.
Dr. Tom Johnson uses a power instrument to float a patient's teeth. Improper use of power equipment can lead to irreversible
damage to the dentition.
Good dental care is an important part of a preventive maintenance program. Every horse in your practice should be a dental
patient. Many horses show no outward signs of dental problems until the condition has progressed beyond complete repair. Simple,
cursory dental exams (no sedation, light, speculum, etc.) miss a great deal and always should be suspect. Many educated owners
no longer will accept a glance in the mouth of their horse and a "looks fine to me" from you. So schedule enough time to give
their horse(s) a thorough dental exam. Purchase the equipment needed to do a proper exam safely. Sedate the horse adequately,
and furnish proper assistance. Charge accordingly for the time, effort and education you have put into dentistry. Remember
to think about the whole horse: a heart condition or COPD might need evaluation prior to a dental exam. Large non-healing
oral ulcers and severe periodontal disease may indicate a metabolic condition, such as Cushing's disease.
Pre-purchase exams are intended to give the prospective owner an idea of a horse's pre-existing conditions, how these conditions
might affect the horse in the future and the likely maintenance of such problems.
Dental conditions, such as malocclusions, damaged or missing teeth, periodontal disease, bone spurs or other previous bit
damage, etc. should be identified for the potential buyer. A horse that is suffering from untreated dental disease will be
a frustration to the new owner just as a horse with a chronic lameness found on a pre-purchase exam.
On the other hand, if you don't have the time, money, personnel or will to perform proper dentistry, then you have several
options. Refer complicated cases to someone who enjoys dentistry and you feel does a responsible job. Take a few moments out
of your busy schedule and spend some time with this person; allow them to show you what they feel the future dental care of
the patient should be. Do the follow-up care and maintenance on these horses. Hire a new graduate who has an interest in dentistry,
and provide additional training opportunities. By realizing that each horse in your practice is a potential dental patient,
you can take your overly busy 1.5-person practice to a busy 2-person practice. By hiring a new graduate and paying them on
a percentage basis in our practice, we were able to provide a very good wage and provide our clientele with a much better
service than we would have with a well-trained veterinarian. Provide additional training opportunities for your technical
help and delegate maintenance or follow-up work to them. Seek additional training yourself from dentistry wet labs and short
courses and ride with a dental specialist; it may be the spark you needed to get you more involved in the rewarding field
of equine dentistry.
Power floaters can overheat teeth and kill pulp, so practitioners must be attentive to the amount of tooth material removed,
the amount of heat that an instrument can create and the longevity of the horses' dentition.