Ask the Vet: Equine Dentistry

Answered by, Reece Myran, DVM, Pooler, GA.
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: Based on canine treatment of some deep pockets with doxycycline gel, I am wondering if this can be used in horses to help clear up gingivitis. I have a 27-year-old Arabian that underwent five extractions a few years ago. I am rinsing his mouth daily with Listerine then flushing to keep the bacteria down. My other 22-year-old has some cavities and I wonder about the option of fillings to increase tooth longevity.

Answer: I generally find gingivitis to be a secondary problem in the horse—that is, I’ve rarely seen it as the main problem. Usually, there is an anatomic problem with the teeth that allows food to accumulate in the pocket between the gums and the tooth. I have occasionally used doxirobe gel in the horse, generally in cases where I’ve identified a periodontal pocket, cleaned it out, and not found it necessary to extract the adjacent tooth.

In the case of your 27-year-old with five extractions, I’d be curious to know if there is currently any gingivitis, or if the previous extractions have fixed that problem. For your 22-year-old, cavities can be filled in a similar manner as in people—by drilling and cleaning out the cavity, then filling. However, when considering the premolars and molars in the horse, for various structural reasons, the process is more difficult, and should not be considered a permanent solution—many of them needed to be replaced every few years.

Question: I have had my horses’ teeth floated by both manual and mechanical methods. It seems that the mechanical method is more abrasive than manual and as my horses are now entering into their senior years (16 and 18) I am wondering which method would be best. Am I being overly concerned about this?  

Answer: The short answer is that I have used both methods extensively, and both ways can be used correctly (or abused for that matter). I would suggest that you allow the veterinarian with dental experience who takes care of your horse’s mouth to use whatever method they feel is the most appropriate for the situation.

Question: I have an 8-year-old Arabian gelding that slobbers his grain still, after being examined by an equine veterinarian dental specialist twice. Any explanations? 

Answer: My guess is if your veterinarian has examined your horse twice, there is no pathology in your horse’s mouth.

Even though dropping grain is often cited as a sign of dental disease, I have found that to be very unreliable over the years. My personal opinion is simply that the horse’s mouth is not designed to eat small pellets/grains, and especially if they eat fast, some will fall out of their mouths. The one thing I would suggest is feeding your horse over a rubber mat (or something similar) to keep him from ingesting a bunch of sand/dirt when he picks up what he has slobbered.

Question: The last time my horse’s teeth were done with power tools he began quidding. What would have caused this? Also how can an owner know if too much tooth surface is removed? Is it considered in general that power tools are better than manual? 

Answer: As to the difference between manual vs. powered tools: either method can be used correctly or incorrectly–the real issue is the knowledge/skill/experience of the operator. Horse owners, quite honestly, can’t really tell if too much dental tissue has been removed. If your horse was quidding after dental work, he may have had too much dental tissue removed, which is a common finding in my experience. I would strongly encourage you to the following:

1) Only allow a veterinarian to perform any dental work on your horse and;

2) Don’t be afraid to question them about their dental experience/training.