Saturday, August 23, 2008

Equine Dental Doin's - The Sequel

Warning -- if moderately icky photos make you queasy and you receive our posts via email you may not want to open the attached photo.

I hesitated to post the lower picture, but decided this more than adequately illustrates the reality of elder dental issues. This, folks, is why a quick feel of a tooth's chewing surfaces is not enough. Merely running a finger over grinding surfaces to look for sharp edges is NOT a thorough dental exam.

To conduct a thorough exam, the dentist should use a speculum to hold the horse's mouth open. Each tooth should be examined on all surfaces......the grinding surfaces, the side facing the cheek, the side facing the tongue. Feel not just the "top" surface, but along the gum line for irregularities. Smell the breath, and yes, smell your fingers after feeling around. Is there a spoiled or rotten smell? Possible infection? Then wiggle, wiggle, wiggle each tooth to look for looseness or fractures. Take note if the horse appears to "react" to specific that site painful? NOTE! Don't do this yourself without a speculum if you value your fingers!!!!

The motivation for this post? Sonny. This photo was taken Aug 17. 2008, one week ago.
Our 37 year old alpha horse had been feeling a little "off" lately. He was eating fine, had no obvious injury or pain issues, but wasn't quite himself and seemed to lose a little standing in the herd. Sonny had no (zero) top molars when he arrived. Last November, he lost three lower molars that had become loose. Two days ago, another dental exam revealed several more loose teeth. Not only were they loose, but decayed beyond belief. How does something like this even stay in a horse's mouth?

Note that Sonny has not been losing weight, had not stopped eating, had not exhibited any obvious signs of pain or illness. There was nothing to indicate a problem of this magnitude. The moral of this story is something we've preached about the time your horse shows outward signs of dental pain, he may already have a big, big problem. This issue was detected during a routine exam. Had we waited until Sonny appeared sick or in pain, the infection may have spread to other tissues, possibly even the jaw bone itself.

In addition to Sonny's infected teeth, the dentist also discovered an infected incisor in Rienzi's mouth. It slid right out, having no root left. Rienzi had also been examined in November. Things happen that fast in elders.

And Val was found to have yet another fragment beneath the surface of the gum. These fragments seem to show up in places he was missing teeth as a teenager. We don't know why he lost so many teeth by the time he arrived here at age 15 but, four years later, pieces are still showing up.

More frequent dental exams..............don't skimp on this one if your horse is over 20 years old. Make sure exams are thorough, make sure they are frequent. Don't depend on your horse to tell you when something is wrong. An ounce of prevention...........

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