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The lifespan of an equine dental treatment

By Wriiten Justin Stark, Certified Equine Dental Practitioner - | Aug 24, 2020
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This photo shows excessive reduction of the chewing surface by using a power instrument incorrectly.

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These photos show a mouth with proper dentistry 9 months prior, showing very few signs of tool markings but very healthy chewing surfaces.

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These photos show a mouth with proper dentistry 9 months prior, showing very few signs of tool markings but very healthy chewing surfaces.

Wriiten by Justin Stark

Certified Equine Dental Practitioner

As I travel the region addressing the oral health of horses, I notice clues left behind from other practitioners that tell a story of how well a horse, or group of horses, has been taken care of. I am not going to discuss the obvious signs of a “lack” of dental care, but the details that show the quality of the work of others.

It is very refreshing to find horses who have been well cared for by a practitioner who is educated, talented, and up to date on current dental knowledge and skill. Most horses should see a dental professional on an annual basis, some horses will require a visit more often. This type of mouth will be rather unremarkable. One would note balanced cheek teeth, tooth height being even across all the tooth batteries, and a relatively low amount of lateral ridging of the cheek teeth. Sharp edges may be starting to develop toward the rear of the mouth where the big cheek muscle will push the soft inner cheek tissue into the edge of the upper molars. Despite the near perfect mouth, there should be very little evidence of the work that was performed just 10-12 months earlier. Keep in mind that this is in a normal mouth with proper oral conformation and where all normal teeth are present at any given age.

Even though this mouth looks rather pristine, the main reason for this is good dental work and for most horses, annual maintenance is still necessary. A typical treatment in this mouth would include touching the lateral ridging of the cheek teeth, addressing the sharp edges that are forming against the cheek and under the tongue, and slightly rounding the very front corner of the first cheek teeth that can come into contact with the bit. This is commonly known as a “bit seat” but the industry is now calling it “rostral profiling of the first cheek teeth”, since it really has nothing to do with seating of the bit. This keeps the cheek from being pinched between the tooth and the bit when pressure is applied.

A very difficult part of my job is to follow behind a practitioner who’s work is way too aggressive. In these mouths I have seen narrowing of the molar tables which reduces the chewing surface, tall teeth that were not properly addressed and left to continue their destruction of neighboring teeth, and severe rostral profiling of the first cheek tooth so that the opposing teeth don’t come into contact to chew feed. There is a preferred way to address the rostral profile of those teeth and there should remain very little evidence of this work after a year’s time. If a rostral profile of the first cheek tooth still looks fresh after 12 months, it was way too aggressive when it was originally done. This practice can open up the blood supply and nerve portion of the tooth eventually leading to infection and extraction. An unskilled hand can also invert the angle of the cheek teeth. This will cause near immediate soreness when eating and may cause the horse to have to eat using an abnormal chewing pattern. Sometimes bad dental work is worse than no dental work.

This article is only discussing the quality of “regular maintenance” and is not meant to examine the various aspects of reparative dentistry. While a horse owner may not be able to fully judge the quality of work being done inside a horse’s mouth, it is important to search out the most educated, most talented, and best equipped dental professional in the area. Some travel may be required, but remember, it’s only once a year and chances are, that person is likely very busy!

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