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HORSE TALK: A Visit From the Dentist

By Judy Van Put -- July 4, 2000
Continuing with last week‚s column on the importance of dental examinations for your horse‚s health:
As mentioned previously, it is important to ask your veterinarian to check your horse‚s teeth as part of each yearly (or twice-yearly) check-up. In most cases, the veterinarian will „floatš the horse‚s teeth, using a metal file that levels the sharp hooks or points which may occur when the horse‚s teeth grow unevenly. Occasionally, a special problem will arise, which will necessitate the services of an equine dental practitioner. Here in Sullivan County, we are fortunate to have the services of Terry Finch. I called Terry to come and check the teeth of my 20 year old TWH gelding, Bucky, who was exhibiting some unusual problems.
Bucky had a strange habit of twisting his head completely sideways while chewing his feed. It didn‚t matter whether or not the feed was steam-crimped oats, sweet feed, or pellets (the order of feeds I‚ve used for him these past three years). He would get a mouthful of feed, then twist his head completely horizontally to one side. As he chewed, the feed would spill out of his mouth, into the bucket on the floor. It took him a long time, as he would also salivate excessively Ų resulting in quite a messy routine by the time he was finished. I did notice an unusually shaped tooth just behind his incisors, which my veterinarian pointed out as being abnormal, and he recommended I contact Terry for consultation.
Terry examined Bucky‚s teeth, and exclaimed how he had never seen such a tooth! It appeared that Bucky had only five incisors, rather than the normal six Ų and that his sixth incisor had migrated to the side of his jaw. It then „took onš the shape of a premolar Ų twisting sideways and flattening out on the top (or side, in this case). My horse was using this tooth as a grinding tooth Ų but because of the abnormality, it was sticking out sideways, and causing a lot of excess salivation, and for some reason, the twisting of his head. After a minor „surgery,š which involved neatly cutting down the tooth into a normal size and shape, Bucky was much improved. The whole procedure took but a few minutes Ų no anesthesia was necessary, as there were no nerves in the part of the tooth that needed the cutting down. Terry inserted a full-mouth speculum to facilitate working on the teeth. He cut the tooth, then filed it smooth, and I was able to take photographs Ų both before and after. Bucky hardly had to be held at all Ų he was very cooperative. Even more importantly, for his sake, another procedure was done. Terry inquired as to whether or not Bucky tossed his head while we were riding him. Yes, I replied, and it‚s only been the past few times. We couldn‚t figure out what the problem was. „Well, here it isš he exclaimed, showing me a broken tooth. Poor Bucky had a broken tooth way up in his upper jaw, which caused pain when pressure was applied to the bit. Never having looked so far up into his mouth, I would not have known this Ų but Terry‚s simple examination proved very useful, and, to Bucky, very much appreciated.
After Bucky was finished, Terry asked me to keep watch on his eating habits. „If after a while he starts twisting his head around again while eating, let me know and I‚ll come back and check his teeth again Ų it could be an old habit, but it can be broken with proper attention paid to the teeth.š
I am very grateful for Terry Finch‚s expertise, and the professional and gentle way he handled my horses (I had him „floatš Prissy‚s and Graycie‚s teeth, since he was already here). There was no trauma, and even in young Gracie‚s case, with limited experience with a dentist, she was wonderful to handle. The full-mouth speculum is very comfortable to the horses, and facilitates the examination without having to touch their tongue excessively. So remember, put the „dental checkš on your list when you have your horse‚s next health exam Ų and don‚t be afraid to „look that gift horse in the mouth.š

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