Equine dental equipment: what you need to know

Intraoral light source

This is essential for a thorough examination of the oral cavity and allows much more precise floating. There are numerous problems that can only be seen – they can’t be felt so a good light source is essential.

Flushing system

Either a hose or a water pressure pump is required to remove food material from the mouth and also to remove food packed between the teeth. This allows the operator to examine the mouth properly.

Dental mirror and dental pick

The mirror allows suspect areas to be examined thoroughly. The dental pick allows rotten food material to be removed from periodontal pockets so they can be thoroughly cleaned and examined.

Extraction tools

Wolf teeth and retained caps (deciduous molars) often need to be extracted as they can interfere with the bit or with the correct descent of the permanent molars. Occasionally permanent teeth will also need to be extracted if they are severely diseased or damaged.

Disinfectants

It is important to prevent the transmission of infectious agents between horses. Veterinarians understand the importance of biosecurity and equipment should be disinfected between horses.

Handfloating versus powertool floating

Over the past 10 years revolutionary dental techniques have been developed to care for the equine mouth, including the use of powertools. While a skilled operator can perform routine floating with hand rasps, a powertool in the correct hands, allows for more precise and efficient floating with less soft tissue damage. However, it must be mentioned that using a powertool requires a qualified and experienced professional due to the potential to cause damage with the instrument either by excessive heat generation or inappropriate use.

Only your veterinarian who has undertaken the necessary training has the knowledge and skills to safely sedate your horse and perform dentistry with power instruments. The risk of either directly or indirectly causing damage to the teeth is increased with power instruments. The main risks are: over-aggressive floating resulting in exposed pulp horns; poor technique resulting in over heating of the tooth and subsequent pulp death, and an unbalanced float job which results in excessive pressures placed on certain teeth or an adversely altered chewing motion. These can all potentially cause your horse pain and may damage or even kill the tooth / teeth, leading to further pain and wear abnormalities as the horse may avoid chewing with the painful area.

Other equipment – speculum or gag

This allows the mouth to be opened for a safe and thorough examination and floating if required. There are different types of speculums for floating molars and incisors. The safest type of speculum for horse and operator is a ‘McPherson’ Speculum, as the molars are not biting down on anything so there is no risk of fracture.

With the ‘Swales’ speculum, horses can bite down so hard on the metal coil that they can fracture their molars, leading to severe pain and ongoing problems as the damaged cheek teeth will likely require extraction. If the ‘Swales’ speculum has a rubber wedge instead of a metal coil, then this is much safer for the horse but the caudal cheek teeth are not as accessible as when a full-mouth speculum is used and the incisors are on an angle and more difficult to align correctly. The incisor speculum below is a firm piece of plastic tubing which sits where the bit sits. There are no teeth in this area and most horses chew away happily while incisor work is done if required.

This content was originally published by Equine Veterinarians Australia (EVA), a special interest group of The Australian Veterinary Association.

Photo courtesy of  Dr Kirsten Jackson.