by Dr. Jay Joyce
Equine dentistry will keep your horse pain-free and living longer. Dentistry must be done periodically, and good dental health is vital to your horse’s overall well-being. Professional veterinary dentistry is a large block in the foundation that contributes to your horse’s increased longevity, long-term comfort, and prolonged athletic performance.
Why Do We Do It? As it is with humans and other mammals, oral health cannot be separated from health of the rest of horse. Years ago, it was not uncommon for people to lose their teeth by their middle age. That changed as we learned more about medicine and health, developed fluoride, healthier lifestyles, and sought regular dental care. The fact is that dental disease is almost entirely preventable in all species. Horses are the same, and they need periodic professional veterinary dental care.
Who Can Do Dentistry? In Virginia, the law states that laymen are allowed to “hand float” only. It is illegal for any layman individual to administer any sedation. And they may neither use motorized equipment nor extract any teeth unless under the direct and immediate supervision of a veterinarian. While a veterinarian may be present sedating your horse for a layman, understand their presence is not an endorsement of the work being performed.
Having your horse seen by a non-veterinarian year-after-year is the same as a person seeing a dental hygienist year-after-year without ever seeing a dentist. The concept of the dental hygienist being your sole dental care provider is inconceivable — but some very caring horse owners do not realize they are doing the same.
How Do I Know It’s Time For A Dental Exam (and not a float)? When a veterinarian performs a thorough general exam on your horse, typically during the Spring and Fall vaccination visits, your horse’s mouth should be checked. The examination results will help the veterinarian determine the proper interval for floating/dentistry for your specific horse. In other words, a dental exam and thoughtful owner interview are the new standard to determine when your horse needs a float– not the calendar. Very similar to the recent changes from “deworming” to “parasite control testing”, we perform these services based on the individual needs of your horse.
Signs that indicate your horse needs veterinary dental attention:
• Trouble maintaining weight
• Eats slowly or not eating
• Drops feed and/or dropping hay/grass balls
• Turns head to chew
• Undigested food or hay in manure
• Colic or Choke
• Fussy on the bit, fighting or resisting the bit
• Head shaking
• Misbehaving or underperforming
• No rider control
Remember that you must also have the exam. Just because your horse doesn’t exhibit these signs, doesn’t mean that your horse is without dental needs. Some dental disease is slow to show signs, and once the signs show (like a rotten tooth), it is too late for a less invasive intervention. And early intervention is what you are missing by not having a veterinarian perform or directly oversee your horse’s dental work.
What Happens If I Don’t Do Regular Dentistry? Your horse will not thrive or perform well for long. And maybe not immediately, but your horse will die from complications associated with poor dental care or long-term unqualified dental care. Easily attributable to bad teeth are recurring choke, colic (impactions of middle-aged horse and “down and can’t get up” impactions of older horse), gastric ulcers, weight loss, failure to thrive, and starvation.
It is not acceptable to have an old, thin horse. And there are very few exceptions for horses of any age to be skinny.
What Does Veterinary Dental Care Cost? $150– this “package” usually includes a brief physical exam, oral exam, appropriate sedative and the dental float. At TEVA, there are no extra fees for hooks, ramps, canines, incisors, bit seats — they have always been included at TEVA. We offer discounts for larger groups of horses as well as eliminating the scheduling hassles of arranging for the layman and a sedating vet. We have found that the combined cost of a layman and sedating vet far exceed our $150 bundle fee; and it’s much easier to schedule with just one phone call. And a vet does the work!
You do so many great things for your horse, and you usually go the extra mile to provide the best feed, training and countless comforts for your horse. As one of Northern Virginia’s leading veterinary dentists, I strongly recommend that you consider your horse’s dental care needs and readdress them as needed. Veterinary equine dentistry is changing for the better. We look forward to changing with you.