Each year I make every effort to attend the International Association of Equine Dentistry (IAED) conference somewhere in the United States. If I cannot attend this conference, then I will do my best to participate in an affiliated dental group's continuing education opportunities. Many regard the IAED as the premier organization representing equine dental technicians and veterinarians in equine dentistry. One of IAED's most exciting features is their certification program. Currently two levels of certification are offered, basic and advanced. The standard of dental care of basic certification is head and shoulders above the level of dentistry being offered by most equine practitioners and lay dentists. One of my primary interests is equine dentistry, and for many years I have been striving to increase the quality of the equine dentistry I practice. Joining IAED and working up through the certification levels is another stepping stone in my ongoing attempt to offer the best dentistry possible in the area.
Let's start by delineating some of the differences between “routine floating” and progressive equine veterinary dentistry. As many of you know “points” are one of the first things that many owners notice when a horse's mouth starts to become out of balance.
Points are sharp edges of enamel that start to protrude on the buccal (cheek side) of the upper premolars and molars and on the lingual (tongue side) of the lower cheek teeth. The premolars and molars are the large grinding teeth that are situated behind the area taken up by the bit and extend backwards approximately 8”. Floating teeth has basically meant the removal of these points. Progressive dentistry addresses not only the removal of these points, but also takes into account many other factors of equine dentition, for example, removing hooks, ramps and rims which are some of the abnormalities of molars that are often left poorly addressed in a routine float. Other aspects of progressive dentistry include reducing waves, overgrown molars (high molars or steps), re-establishing molar table angles, creating uniform bit seats, incisor maintenance, conservatively reducing canines (not to be confused with wolf teeth) and removing wolf teeth and deciduous teeth (caps). We will go into each of these subjects in more detail next.
Hooks are defined as being an overgrowth of tooth that is taller than deep. After point formation, hooks are probably the most commonly discovered abnormality. They usually form as sharp, fanglike projections on the upper first cheek teeth and the lower last cheek teeth.
Ramps are defined as an overgrowth of tooth longer in depth than in height. Ramps are the next most commonly seen anomaly second to hooks. They involve more tooth body; therefore, are more difficult to remove.
Rims are formed on an individual tooth when the center of the occlusal (grinding) surface becomes worn down compared to the outer edge of the tooth.
Wave formation involves an overgrowth of tooth in more than one consecutive tooth. Since waves involve more than one tooth, they may require a rather large amount of tooth reduction and can be quite involved. Viewed from the side a wave looks just like its namesake. An elevation in the molar surface corresponds with an indentation in the molar surface opposite it.
Overgrown molars can be caused from the lack of an opposing tooth or because of the super-eruption of the offending tooth which causes excessive wear on the opposing molar. These teeth can be handled either by carefully grinding or cutting them back to normal height.
Bit seat creation involves placing shallow angles into the very front edge of the upper and lower first cheek teeth. Creating a bit seat in the leading edge of the first cheek teeth gives the soft tissues of the mouth (tongue, inside edge of the corners of the lips and cheeks) a comfortable place to rest while a bit is in use.
Incisor maintenance refers to making sure the length of the incisors (front, grass shearing teeth) is in correct proportion to the length of the molars. If the incisors are too long it keeps the molars out of contact with each other during a chewing cycle. If the molars are too long in relation to the incisors this won't allow the incisors to come together completely. We can judge molar and incisor proportion by observing the effect of lateral movement of the jaw. Keeping the incisor length proportionate to the molar length and adjusting the molar table angle to 10 to 15 degrees allows the horse to achieve maximum efficiency of feed breakup and therefore utilization. We look for a stem length of no longer than 3/8” in the manure to assess grinding efficency.
Canine reduction involves the conservative shortening and blunting of the canine teeth when they are present. Many authorities in equine dentistry now recommend this procedure since it serves a number of purposes. Canine reduction contributes to making things more comfortable when bitting the horse, they are less likely to abrade the horse's tongue and cause less injury to the hands of anyone examining or working in the horse's mouth and can prevent or slow tartar formation at this common area for tartar buildup.
Wolf teeth are small permanent teeth that erupt usually within the first year or two of the horse's life. The crown (the part of the tooth visible above the gum) usually averages about the size of a pencil eraser. When present, this tooth sits just in front of the first upper cheek teeth and has the high probability of causing potential bitting problems. With proper levels of sedation and analgesia (pain relief) they are usually removed quite easily.
Deciduous teeth are baby teeth that erupt and exist in the young horse's mouth from birth through 4.5 years old. They exist for the incisors and first three upper and lower cheek teeth (pre-molars). Deciduous teeth are often called “caps” and like a loosening baby tooth in humans can be quite uncomfortable for several weeks prior to their natural falling out. When loosening caps are discovered during a dental exam they should be removed at that time.
The above information demonstrates the complexity of equine dentistry when it is approached with the goal of balancing the equine mouth. Please see the photographs of actual cases, diagrams and articles linked to our dental page to learn more and better understand what's going on inside your horse's mouth. The above information demonstrates the complexity of equine dentistry when it is approached with the goal of balancing the equine mouth.