from the Vet Corner Archives

Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 11/05/99; 2:00:00PM.

Veterinary Corner 11/99: Equine Dental Conditions

by Sylvia Miller, DVM
Edgecliff Equine Hospital
S. 1322 Park Road, Spokane, WA 99212 * 509/924-6069

Greetings from Bridgeport, home of the Marine Corps Mountain Welfare Training Center! We are located in the mountains at the edge of the desert, and the air is quite brisk, the land arid and rugged. The mules are used to pack out gear and hands on instruction in packing, and are the only working pack string remaining in the military. Today we're going to use a few of the mules for an example of different dental conditions that we commonly see when we look into an equine mouth, often for the first time. The way the wind is chilling our bones, we're going to wish we were using manual tools to keep warm!

Although horses should be examined at birth, particularly for a cleft palate and correct "bite" (i.e. lack of parrot mouth or sow mouth), this doesn't always occur. The next step in examination should occur at 6-8 months for incisor and cheek teeth occlusion, but in reality, the horse's mouth may not be examined until 2 years of age in those used for performance type sports. If we miss this stage of growth, then we often won't see them until the owner requests it due to a bitting or chewing problem, unless a dental exam is part of the regular semi-annual physical exam. (Since these mules must be ready to deploy on short notice, they are examined every six months, with a minimum laboratory database and Coggins, and regular vaccinations - along with close daily observation.)

In the case of Margret, a 13 year old mule with a distaste for certain people (excuse the pun, but she really does charge at people), she has a nice set of teeth but her lateral jaw excursion (side to side movement) is very limited due to a large wolf tooth and a hook on the premolar behind it. After extracting the wolf tooth, an oblong 11mm across, we bring the large hook down to the level of the tooth and then reduce it some more before proceeding to more routine floating. We test her lateral excursion in both directions, and are satisfied when we have restored it to a more normal range of motion.

John's teenaged mouth was first examined last spring and it was noted that he had a slight step mouth with some high teeth. Although the high teeth (third cheek teeth on both sides of the jaw) were brought down in size a few millimeters, today we are going to reduce them again and improve his "bite," but still try to preserve the angles of both upper and lower dental arcades. His tell sharp canines had been burred down to just above the gumline previously, avoiding exposure of the pulp (sensitive portion of the tooth with blood supply).

Red is a 9 year old mule with a fairly good dental arcade. He is typical of most of the equids his age, in that the transverse ridges are well developed and the upper arcade has prominent buccal or outer points while the lower arcade has sharp points on the lingual or inner side. By floating these, we decrease the pain caused by pinching and chewing at the cheek tissue, as evidenced by the buccal ulcers and allow the teeth to move in a more elliptical motion of chewing. This is also accomplished by reducing some of the prominent cingull (cusps) and enamel edges on the sides of the front cheek teeth and the sharp prominent transverse ridges of some teeth.

Julep is a 26 year old molly mule who has served the Corps with esprit. As is commonly found with many older horses, she has a wave mouth, but her teeth are in amazingly good condition. There is much wear, down to the gumline, on her cheek teeth, however, she does not have impacted feed in or between her teeth or periodontal disease. We reduce the prominent cingull and the hooks on her front cheek teeth to allow more front-to-back motion in chewing, and also reduce her incisors (her "smile") to allow the cheek teeth more contact. As an older animal is also less efficient as digesting food, we make dietary changes as well.

Equine dentistry has seen more changes in the past few years than probably any other field of study; there is no "routine float." Our goal in floating teeth is to eliminate pain, make the horse more comfortable in chewing, to maintain or restore good occlusion and to preserve the natural chewing motions that allow the horse to efficiently break down and digest forage. It is not uncommon to examine an older horse's mouth to find that he has never had a dental exam before, and the procedures to preserve his ability to chew become salvage procedures. This can be prevented by having your veterinarian perform a complete dental exam when the semi-annual physical exam rolls around, and regular dental prophylaxis.

If you would like more information on dentistry, ask your veterinarian or call us at Edgecliff for a group presentation.

PS. The names of the mules were changed to protect their identities!

See you all after AAEP

--Sylvia Miller

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