Why use a Veterinarian vs. a Lay dentist?

The use of an Equine Lay Dentist is a very controversial topic today. Often times there are misconceptions as to what a lay dentist is licensed to do within the state of California. First, it is important to establish what is a lay dentist. A lay dentist is a person that floats horses' teeth, but is not a veterinary professional. They are often certified to perform dental floats through a lay dentist school. This school cannot authorize them to sedate horses, perform tooth extractions, diagnose or treat ailments.
If a lay dentist cannot sedate horses, then it is not possible to do an effective job floating the teeth of a horse. Often times, a lay dentist is able to file the upper molars only on the first 3-4 teeth. The dilemma is that on quick inspection this may seem that it will make the horse more comfortable. Unfortunately there are 6 teeth total in each molar arcade. What this means for the horse is that the last 2-3 molars will continue to have sharp points that will make the horse uncomfortable by continuing to cause cheek ulcerations. Within our practice we have found this to be true on multiple occasions when horses have been previously treated by lay dentist.
Furthermore, since they by law are unable to diagnose or treat problems, there are many issues within the oral cavity that can go unnoticed and / or undiagnosed. This is a dilemma as these issues can cause a horse great discomfort and lead to further medical problems. These disorders include: periodontal pockets, fractured teeth, malocclusions, and any other anomalies associated with the oral cavity and surrounding structures.
Another important aspect to be realized is that while lay dentists can float teeth (without sedation or a good oral exam), they are not held accountable for their work. Without a professional license, there is no accountability for their work. So oftentimes, these horses are subjected to poor dental care and the owners have no recourse for the service provided.
Equine dentristy is more than simply filing sharp points off of the "cheek teeth". It is about ensuring proper oral health, and alignment through the careful inspection via an oral exam performed under sedation.

What is included with a dental exam and tooth float

At Valcheck Veterinary, each horse is treated with the highest level of care. This includes adequate sedation for the horse to be able to wear an oral speculum (holds the mouth open). Each tooth is inspected for fractures, carries and malocclusions. The gums are inspected for irritation and periodontal pockets. The entire oral cavity is inspected for foreign bodies and other lesions.
If there are concerns that warrant digital radiographs, those can be performed on site.
After a full exam of the mouth and all adjustments are made to the premolars and molars, the speculum is removed. Then the incisors undergo a full inspection. See below for more details.

What is a periodontal pocket?

A periodontal pocket is a point between teeth where food gets trapped and packs. This causes a depression in the gums and can lead to infection as the food rots. This can lead to deep infections that can potentially travel up the tooth root and all the way to the sinus cavity.
When caught early periodontal pockets can be addressed by simply widening the gap to allow the food to fall out when eating. This is one of many reasons to get an annual dental.
These are most commonly found in the older horses because tooth roots are more shallow and loose. This allows for food to get lodged in between the teeth and begin the formation of a pocket.
In the more advanced stages of the disease, it is not uncommon for a tooth to need extraction. While this can be a complicated procedure, it is something that may be necessary in order to alleviate the discomfort and begin the healing process.

Dental Extractions

Dental extractions are typically considered the appropriate therapy for the following disorders: fractured teeth, tooth root infections, severe periodontal pockets and very loose teeth (often seen in older horses). We are fully equipped to handle intra- oral extractions of molars.
Intra- oral or removal through the mouth is the preferred method of extraction, as it is easier on the horse. It does not involve general anesthesia and the risks that go with it. The healing time is quicker and the cost is more reasonable.

Notice the fracture in the tooth above.

Incisor Exam

After the "cheek teeth" or premolars and molars are examined and floated, the speculum is removed and the incisors are examined. It is important to examine these for any disease, anomalies or malocclusions.
One of the most common findings is what is called a "wry mouth". This is depicted to the left. You can see that on the top, the incisors on the right of the picture are longer than those on the left. These are often indicative of long standing malocclusion of the molar arcade leading to uneven chewing and wear patterns. Often times this is found when either dentals have not been performed for many years or the molars in the back of the mouth have not been properly filed and have been allowed to develop "hooks".

How Dentistry Affects the Horse as a Whole

It is essential to have routine dentistry performed on your horse. By having an annual oral exam, this allows for the prevention of the aforementioned diseases. It also allows for more comfortable and more complete chewing of food. By allowing the horse to chew and process food efficiently, the incidence of disorders such as choke, colic and chronic weight loss can be reduced. This is a simple and effective method to improving the whole health of your horse.