The more articles I read on “normal” equine dentistry like this one, the more I suspect there is as much unnecessary dental work being done on horses as humans!
For example, where is our frame of reference for making all these assertions about what a ‘healthy equine mouth’ looks like? I would like to see teeth comparisons of wild mustang horses who are in robust physical shape (good weight) before we decide what is ‘normal’ or ‘optimal’ for equine tooth shape, hooks, appearance, alignment, etc. WHO says a perfectly even flat surface is best for chewing/grinding?
After hours of searching on the Internet, this is the only natural mustang skull I could find that showed its teeth clearly. It was sold on Etsy and according to the seller, “This is a big feral/mustang-type stallion skull complete with lower jaw and all teeth, including four big canine teeth. This skull came from a very old male horse. The skull is missing one tooth that appears to have fallen out naturally. The animal this skull came from was humanely euthanized by gun, so there is one small bullet hole in the cranium. This horse was euthanized due to old age and poor health”:
So not a healthy, robust mustang, but at least it’s something!
My other suspicion with equine dentistry is how much of what of what modern equine dentists are saying is ‘ideal’ is really for the wearing of bits vs. the obtainment of nutrition?
I was fretting about what to do with my horse Zorra when she needed her teeth floated, plus I had 2 new rescue horses arriving; who would probably need a checkup. This kicked my research up a notch. And then one of our horses, Spero, began dropping partially-chewed chunks of hay as he ‘grazed’ at the slow feeder. His owner, Kesia, checked his teeth and noticed a couple of ‘hooks’ that were likely interfering with his chewing. However, even after owning horses for many years, boarding at different barns, and managing other people’s herds, Kesia still hadn’t encountered an equine dentist who stood out as particularly good. A friend of mine who is a farrier (and former vet assistant) feels the same way. What to do??
My herd in Alberta had their teeth hand-floated every year by my farrier – no sedation, standing in the pasture.
It wasn’t until I came to BC and walked into a boarding facility that I saw a horse’s head strung up in a sling, drugged into a stupor, jaw forced wide by a speculum, with a crazy-loud power drill grinding away in her mouth. I was horrified!
Having done a number of teleseminars with human dentists I was not about to blindly follow what everyone else was doing to their horse. And persuading Kesia (barefoot trimmer) to learn how to float teeth seems preferable to letting any of the equine dentists I’ve seen recently loose on my horses!
But I was still puzzled as to why Spero had developed hooks as he’d spent a year on the range (300 acres up country in Clinton, BC) and for the last 6 months he’s had low sugar hay in a slow feeder 24/7… why wasn’t he naturally wearing down his teeth?
Well, veterinarian and equine dentist, Dr. Chrysann Collatos, in Reno says:
“Three factors contribute to wear of the horse’s teeth: the interaction between the two biting surfaces, the time spent chewing and the nature of the material being chewed. Research has shown that horses at pasture chew more and with more lateral (side to side) motion than horses fed a mixed hay/grain diet. Specifically, horses eating hay chew 58-66 times per minute vs. horses at pasture which chew 100-105 times per minute! In addition, horses eating a strictly forage (hay) diet require 16 hours to chew their daily nutritional needs while horses on high concentrate with some hay diets require only 6.1 hours to consume their daily feed requirement.
So our performance horses chew slower, for less time, and less effectively than their mustang counterparts. Therefore, they don’t do a good job of floating their own teeth, and small dental abnormalities that would self-correct on a tough fibrous grass diet (mustangs) become serious dental issues without regular dental care in our horses living in confinement.”
But since our horses have 24/7 access to low sugar hay in a slow feeder, along with pasture forage, we were still mystified as to why Spero had developed hooks. Until a dentist clarified that the mustang forage grasses contain a “coarse silica content which wears the teeth far more than the grasses and hay available to our domestic horses.”
This is how LONG a young horse’s teeth are – compared to a 25 year old horse. When you look at these pictures, it becomes clear that nature equipped horses with plenty of tooth to be ground down by continual grazing on coarse wild grasses:
Removing any pointy bits on the teeth is a very common method in equine dentistry. As shown here, “the float head in this picture is placed just to remove the points. However, removing these takes away the horse’s steak knife that nature has given them. Which is necessary to cut the grasses and hay in their diet; enabling easier, proper digestion”:
Dr. Heather Mack echoes the importance of NOT rasping away too much! “We leave as much clinical crown and table surface as possible on the molars and pay close attention to table angles. This is critically important in the rear most molars as they are closest to the TMJ, brain, and central nervous system. Their occlusal surface and angle is critical to proper guidance, body biomechanics and balance.” Here’s an easy to understand illustration of this from Peter Borgdorff:
So basically, yes! It is very important to choose an equine dentist who is trained to take a holistic look at your horse. And any filing or removing of tooth needs to be done with all of these elements in mind – not just to rasp off sharp bits and create smooth, even teeth!
My Equine Dentist Uses Power Tools – Is This Okay?
Here’s the opinion of many holistic equine dentists: “In the age of power tools, many horses are floated excessively and with disregard of the natural angles and eruption rate of the horse’s teeth. Frequent over-floating and excessive adjustments will reduce the longevity of the tooth. Power equipment may overheat the tooth. When this happens it heats up a substance called apatite in the tooth, firing it like porcelain, thus making the chewing surface slick. A slick tooth surface prevents proper chewing, which then may lead to digestive problems and proprioception issues (the sense of how your limbs are oriented in space).”
I have experienced this ‘smooth tooth’ issue myself with one of my molars that has a gold crown on it. I get nowhere near the traction and chewing ability on that tooth and I have to use a lot more pressure to chew food, since there are no sharp edges to tear the food apart. All of my other molars have sharp edges around them. So I can imagine the difficulty (and jaw soreness) a horse would face if most of his teeth were heated and ground smooth by a power float.
The other problem with using power floats with horses – and power drills with human – is that they also induce microfractures in the tooth. This then sets the tooth up for further problems. In human dentistry we are seeking to minimize this damage by using lasers whenever possible. In horses, Spencer LaFlure uses hand floats only and he has designed a special set of angled hand floats.
The last issue almost no one is questioning, is the effect of sedation on the horse. Geoff Tucker DVM says:
“Texas A&M vet school presented a finding at the AAEP meeting 2 years ago that showed that 1 dose of Previcox (a common pain medication in horses) killed a whole group of the 700 normal bacteria species found every day in the mouth. Yes there are about 700 families of bacteria that live in the mouth of the horse. There are trillions of bacteria in, on and around you and your horse. In layman’s terms, in a neighborhood of about 700 individual families which makes up the thousands living in a town, a whole family was wiped out including aunts, uncles, moms, dads and children. One dose did that – but with no outward signs of a problem. The question to ask is what effects occur on the health of the teeth and gums when horses are automatically sedated? We all know the effect of bute (phenylbutazone) on the lining of the cecum and colon but what about sedation on the oral health of the mouth? We are all learning of the microbiota of the gut and that any disorganization of this (dysbiosis) leads to ulcer formation in humans. So what does the sedative do and is the risk worth the benefit?”
Evaluating The Individual Horse vs. An Idealized Concept
This is a tendency you find in human dentistry as well – where, instead of looking at the entire head, skull, temporomandibular joint, neck, etc. the dentist only looks at the teeth in isolation and then attempts to get them to fit a stylized “ideal”, rather than looking at function, comfort, and tooth health.
The difference with Spencer LaFlure’s method of Natural Balance Equine Dentistry, and other holistic methods, is that the equine dentists are trained to evaluate the whole horse, including movement and hooves – as these are all indicators of what’s unbalanced or needs to be adjusted in the mouth. Dr. Mack says, “Some pathology should not be corrected, especially in aged horses that have been compensating for years and have adapted, in these cases one does minimal work mostly to allow more comfort and maximum surface to surface contact between the teeth.”
Another dentist says she makes “sure to leave the natural angles your horse was born with. Which then acts as a railroad track guiding your horse’s chewing motion.”
The other really important distinction made by LaFlure is to work on the horse’s teeth in the head-down position. You know, closer to the position the jaws would normally be in when the horse was eating – der!! This further ensures that the proper tooth angles are maintained while rasping, and prevents damage to the temporomadibular joint and other jaw structures. Not surprisingly, very few horses worked on this way need sedation.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a few veterinarians like David Ramey who question whether a horse in good health needs to have their teeth filed at all! He also quotes from a book first printed in 1682, by King Charles’ farrier, about the importance of a horse having sharp teeth (not smooth) in order to chew efficiently.
I know from human experience, that once you let dentists loose on your teeth, you’re stuck in this endless feedback loop that almost always necessitates continual dental treatment. So I resonate very strongly with Dr. Ramey’s ideas about leaving the horse completely alone unless there is a clear problem.
Three years later, Kesia still has not floated Spero’s teeth – he fixed the problem on his own in a month or two and hasn’t dropped any hay chunks since. I have yet to have any of my horses’ teeth done and all five are in excellent health. If any did have a significant problem (that they couldn’t self-heal over a couple of months) then my first choice would be to find a Natural Balance or holistic equine dentist who will come to our area. Or at the very least, find a dentist who can do a hand float (with optional sedation) and who will agree to show us exactly what he’s planning to remove – or perhaps who will agree to read this blog post first and take a look at Spencer LaFlure’s articles…
FEBRUARY 2019 UPDATE:
I recently had an equine dentist (DVM) out to check some of my horses. My mare Zorra (age 14) whose previous owner said she MUST have her teeth done every year at least, had only 1 sharp point – but as I don’t ride her with a bit, the dentist advised I leave it alone, since that is the only thing it would impact.
So she has had FIVE years of no dental treatments now (since she came to me). My newest 3-yr-old mustang stallion had his teeth checked during castration – all good. My other semi-feral mare, Audelina, had never had her teeth examined before (we now know she is aged 7) and her teeth were perfect. Nothing needed to be done. How can that be?
For the last 5 years my horses have had 24/7 access to LOW SUGAR (usually less than 10% NSC) in slow feeders. The value of allowing horses to “graze” at liberty simply cannot be downplayed (for many reasons). And this year, I switched them to 1st cut hay as it is coarser (still low sugar of course) and I felt/theorized that too would help them grind their own teeth.
They also have access to 30 acres of forage, including forested areas. When I open up the back section for them in the summer, they ignore the beautiful grass and go straight to a variety of shrubs, leaves, bark, etc FIRST. Interesting.
Since the equine dentist came in the winter, when they are at the slow feeders for 90-95% of their food intake, I have to conclude that the low sugar, 1st cut hay (coarse = higher silica content?), available to them 24 hours/day, 7 days/week is the reason they are able to keep their own teeth in excellent condition.
Of course, living in a vibrant herd (there are 11 horses now) with 20 acres during the winter open to them (12 acres in old-growth forest) for freedom of movement and expression, and a complete supplement regimen, certainly work synergistically to produce a healthy mouth.
I also do not feed ANY grain whatsoever. If you’re feeding pressed pellets of any kind, you need to get the complete ingredient list from the manufacturer, as they often have used wheat, barley, etc as the binding material – even 1 tablespoon of grain is too much and the effects will show up in their teeth or even their feet (abscess). The body/mind/spirit is an integrated whole, not a machine that can be chunked up into just feet, or teeth, etc. 🙂
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
48 thoughts on “Do Equine Dentists Interfere Too Much With Horse’s Teeth?”
I know this is an older blog & I’m kind of surprised nobody commented on it but since I’m new to this blog I wanted to chime in. I find so much information with horses is so conflicting! I really feel on the same page with you about your blogs though (even though I’ve only read about half so far ) I also feel like the information about dental equine that I so far have been exposed to, is just not jiving with the end result, and I’ve had some deep reservations about it ever since. Equine dental is just one more topic that I feel like I can not get a good knowledge of? Should we interfere/interject when it comes to horses teeth, I think humans benefits from maintaince on our teeth? That has been my experience so far , I’m 47. But it has not been my experience with getting my horses teeth floated, unfortunately power floated each time. They all, almost every time had adverse reactions afterword in regards to eating and being there normal selves, you could feel the how yucky it affected them☹️ the only saving grace last time, was it was spring and they had plenty of green soft grass, because they couldn’t eat hay for almost a month, & that was by a supposed teeth expert from NY, & that was all he did for a living was teeth. So I felt good about it , cause I thought great an expert & I’m from California, so I felt lucky my new neighbor had set me up to be included in his visit. The other times were by two different vets…one did an ok job , less adverse reaction, and the other vet created huge adverse reaction, that was my first exposure to getting teeth floated, cause I have only had horses now for 7 years & I of course was trying to be a good mom/ horse lover! The whole teeth situation still just has me so perplexed I don’t want to let them go & be neglecting them , but I can’t stand seeing how much discomfort it causes them , the expert from NY told me that’s pretty normal and said he only takes a little bit and in his defense he wasn’t all bad. He did pull two broken teeth that I knew they were probably broken because I could smell it, But I didn’t know for sure because my horses are not very in their mouth friendly ! something I definitely need to work on, at their pace. Also the NY guy did show me the broken teeth and the points and raw cheek spots that they were rubbing on & I think to myself that must hurt right? so they must need it done , right? Anyway I still feel like it would be great to have access to someone who at least starts off with an holistic approach, I will definitely never do power float again. I have to find someone who does it by hand, at least . & hopefully knows if it even needs to be done., and how much and what angle ….it goes on and on, & sometimes I feel like know one really knows except Mother Nature!
If you know of anyone who comes to California please let me know if you can refer me in anyway?
In the meantime I will just keep providing as much different plant life as my 12 acres with oaks. Roses. Sunflowers, native grasses, weeds, mulberry trees and purchased grass hay can provide & put good horsey dental energy out there and wait for it to answer. Thanks for listening. Your blog rocks!
Hi again Jini
I just checked out the link to the site you had… and sent them an email asking for a reference in my area. Sorry didn’t realize you had the link in the above article…again thanks for your awesome blog…I feel like I could sit and talk horsey with you for weeks…Michelle
There is an awesome natural balance dentist in California! Her name is Amy Scripps, she will definitely be able to help your horses!
Oh Kesia and I were talking about these very things a couple days ago. We’ve both just kind of given up for now. With my 3 wildies I’m really at a loss for what to do. Especially since we can’t get any Spencer-trained dentists here in Canada. I recently got a referral from my dog’s vet for someone who has a ‘special touch’ so I think I will ask him to come out and just begin getting them used to having fingers in their mouth. Then I can gauge how he treats them, his respect level, etc. I’m also wondering that if the horses are on low-sugar hay in slow feeders, they are doing plenty of teeth grinding every day – might be enough to mimic a wild horse’s mouth action… who of course do not have any dental work done and are just fine. As long as they can eat (not dropping wads of hay out of their mouth) and are not losing weight, who’s to say they wouldn’t prefer a bit of cheek pain vs. a float? On the other hand, if you can get a LaFlure-trained dentist to do a hand float with the horse standing still of his own volition, then that might be the best solution.
Where are you in California? And please let us know how it goes and how your horses respond to the Spencer LaFlure hand float method. And yes, no doubt we could talk for hours and days! 🙂
Hello Jini! I am a natural balance dentist from Quebec. I receantly came a across your article and linked to it from my website. Thank you for writing this! As for your horses, there are now two natural balance dentists working in Alberta, and I come out once a year! Their names are Yanick Touchette and Jackson Holm. I highly recommend them both! If you would like their contact info I’d be glad to pass it on!
ohmegosh!!! That is so awesome! I was not able to find ANY natural balance practitioners in Canada during my web search. YES please, send me contact info for all 3 of you and I will add it to this post and also post on our Facebook page.
I checked out your site and it’s great – thanks for the post link too. If I were you, I would also add a CONTACT button to the top menu so we can right away see who you are and where you are located.
What time of year do you come to BC? Is it set, or does it vary from year to year? SO glad you reached out 🙂
As Montana has pointed out above, if you live in CANADA there are 3 really good natural balance (Spencer LaFlure’s method) dentists:
Alberta – Yanick Touchette and Jackson Holm
Quebec – Montana Harman
and in California – Amy Scripps
These are dentists that Montana knows personally and has seen their work. I do not know any of them. Montana and I were in dialogue via email and I can’t post the contact info for any of these Canadian practitioners because equine dentistry is such a hot potato in Canada – with the Veterinarians trying to reserve it only for themselves (repetitive, steady cash flow) and medicalize it further (power drills, sedation, IV drips, etc.). So no one wants to call any attention to themselves.
However, Montana advised us to phone the school directly as they maintain a list of certified practitioners in every State/Province/City so they can provide the contact info:
Please let us know if you come across anyone really good and what city/state they’re in!
Wendy Bryant you can contact also.
Hi Jini…so excited to report back and give you my excellent review on the natural balance dentist that came today her name was Amy Scripps. First of all she had a very nice and gentle demeanor which is so important to me with people around my horses. She was very patient with all 3 of my boys…who could not be more different in there temperament towards having there head and mouths handled. She did not even have to sedate my horses one was just an evaluation but that does still include the jaw opening head collar which she was so patient and gentle about using. She was also able to do the small amount of filing Bullet needed without any sedation…so wonderful for someone like me who loves to keep my horses as natural and chemical free as possible. Dreamer who is 13 ( the other two are 19/21) needed a bit more work as he is very sensitive and he was a bit skeptical of strange fingers going near his mouth and could not be as cooperative as Bullet was. She explained to me all the places she was filing and why and let me see & feel the points and hooks she was going to take off. The hand floating seemed to be way less harsh then the power float. I was so amazed when she was able to do Bullet with no sedation and he didn’t even take a step while she was doing some filing….so to me his mannerisms were showing me that it was not that painful or uncomfortable for him ..& that was super. The icing on the cake is they are all doing great so far & even Dreamer that had the most filing done seems perfectly fine & there definitely seems to be no negative affects like all past power floating experiences. I would highly recommend trying a natural balance dentist & personally can recommend Amy if you are in California…
Thanks for your great article as it led me to the natural balance dentistry & I feel like I have another piece of my horse puzzle/journey in place and feel really positive about dental work in the future years to come.
Oh that is just fantastic Michelle – and thank you SO much for coming back here to let us all know how it went! I can just imagine how you felt as I’ll bet I felt something very similar the day I finally found a human dentist who could do my kids’ teeth without anaesthetic. My daughter – who had a strong fear and would start crying and saying “Ow!” before the drill even touched her teeth, had 4 cavities filled with no anaesthetic. He told her he was just going to “scrub her teeth” to get them ready for the fillings, but he was actually doing them and she sat there happily through the whole appointment. Then she said, with astonishment at the end, “But when are you going to do the fillings??” With my son, he used some anaesthetic – because he was working by FEEL. So yeah, the mark of a great dentist for sure!
Anyway, SO pleased to hear about your herd and well done you for being so proactive in removing yet another point of trauma (under the guise of ‘normal healthcare’) from your horses’ lives. They must feel so grateful to be with you 🙂
Here is a pictured Dreamer Bullet Banner
Kind of a funny pic of them…they were watching me feed the neighbors mini horses while we were in the middle of replacing fencing.
Well there’s nothing more interesting than food, is there? 🙂
Thank you for all your posts here! Jini, I am reading your blog bit by bit and I am excited, grateful and thankful you are posting all this info. I just got two mustangs and I have very little horse experience (but strong instincts) and a lot of what I am seeing/reading/hearing about how care, train, be with horses makes no sense to me! Finally I read something that does! I am doing my best in a very low key boarding facility till I get them over to my pasture! Again, thanks for all the research you do and the great writing!
Hi Vittoria! Sometimes ‘experienced’ horsepeople do the most damage, so I’m glad you’re out there searching for what resonates with your gut instincts. We created a category of articles we thought would be most helpful for people beginning the journey with their own horses, or their own property:
So definitely have a scroll through there when/as you have time. Upload a photo of your mustangs if you can – would love to see them!
Thank you Jini! I am going to read all your posts! I appreciate so much what you are writing and where you come from in your awareness. So needed!
Here is a photo of Dakota and Denali, my mother and son mustangs. They came from the now defunct (or so we hope) ISPMB in South Dakota. They are adorable! You can follow me on Instagram as I am posting about them and my journey 🙂 https://www.instagram.com/vittoriapalazzi/
How old is Dakota? – he reminds me of my little guy, Juno! That is so wonderful that you got both of them, to keep their little family intact. I’ve followed you on Instagram so I can see the photos as they grow and evolve. They really are just adorable!
Jini, Dakota is about 2 yrs old. At least that is what they estimated when they gelded him. His full name is Standing Rock Dakota. 🙂 Their names came to me before I even saw them, or knew of them, which is unusual for me. Originally someone said Denali was a yearling (she’s small), but it turned out when we looked in her mouth that she’s around 15 y/o!
Juno is so cute! I saw your posts on Instagram.
Vittoria I would LOVE to hear the story of Dakota and Denali – from before they came to you. If you ever feel like writing it, please email it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I went to your website and love what you do – how apt that you would find yourself here. So many of us horse listeners are healing or helping people in our day jobs too. How lucky we are to have each other and who knew there were so many of us? 🙂
Jini, yes!!! Exactly about us finding each other. I feel very lucky I am surrounded by so many people of like minds in my yoga community. The horse world….uh, that’s another story 😉
Thank you for writing that you love what I do. It’s taken me a while to get here! And I love it too! I feel my path is all about awareness, and what better partners than horses to discover more about myself? And then share it with whoever wants to hear it!
I will write the story of D & D, and send it to you.
On another great note, I found a dentist who has studied with Dr La Fleure, and I am booking him to come out to see Denali next month. I am thrilled! I will post here to let you/everyone know. He does not think Dakota needs work yet, but since we are not 100% sure of his age either, I’ll ask him to check his mouth too.
His name is Randy Erickson and he travels up and down the West Coast!! His info is http://www.crowningperformanceeqd.com/default.html
That’s great! And yes, let us know how it works out with Randy. Looking forward to your story… 🙂
Just a quick update about the dentist. I never did have the teeth work done, because after writing this, I spoke with a very savvy trainer who said not to bother working on her teeth unless she seemed to have serious issues, which she did/does not! Several months later a vet was able to check Denali’s mouth while she was sedated (only time I had her sedated for farrier) and vet said her teeth were fine. So I am following your protocol and am doing nothing… unless I notice issues. Having someone ready to call is good though!
Well I wouldn’t say ‘doing nothing’ is my protocol – it’s more my current position because I don’t have an equine dentist who is able to honor the horses’ wisdom and handle their bodies with respect 🙂 But I have set my intention out there for someone to come to us who is willing to ask permission to touch their face, to touch their gums, lips, tongue and to not use their nose as leverage to hang onto their head and force them to submit. I am happy to pay someone for their time; realizing that this may be a long process as both horses and dentist gradually come to trust each other and develop this new way of working together. I have hope!
Thanks for clarifying Jini, of course I didn’t mean you aren’t doing anything since you are usually doing everything! Yes, finding someone who can honor and respect, absolutely. It’s happening for people, and it’s going to happen for horses too. I also have hope!
Great article Jini! The short answer is “they can”, if the work is done inappropriately. There are 3 reason why domestic horses benefit from routine annual dental care. The first was described in the article. Our horses don’t eat the same kind of feeds or chew as much as wild horses do. Having had the opportunity to examine a couple hundred recently captured Mustangs during my career, I’m always impressed by the integrity of their dentition. Their dental conformation can serve as a template for what the ideal equine mouth should look like, consistent crown height and occlusal surface angles. The second relates to the fact that the horses’ tongue fills their entire oral cavity. Placement and use of a bit (with its associated head gear) can displace the soft tissue (tongue, lips and cheeks) into the teeth. If this tissue is encountering sharp points or edges, it can make bit contact uncomfortable and resistance can arise. The third reason is that we don’t breed for dental conformation and quality dentition. Physical conformation, pedigree and performance are the primary factors, and for good reason; horse ownership is expensive and our horses have jobs to do. As a result, many horses can be genetically predisposed to dental abnormalities that can lead to compromised or premature loss of ideal dental function. This issue can be reduced or eliminated by regular, quality dental care. The majority of the dental work I perform is done with motorized instruments. That said, I have no problem with those who choose to do all of their work with hand floats (that’s the way I learned to provide proper dental care). That said, there has never been a motorized instrument or power float that has EVER compromised the dentition of ANY horse… independently. Poor education and a lack of sound logic and common sense by the practitioner, is the primary cause of excessive floating and compromization of a horses’ chewing apparatus. I’m familiar with Dr. LaFlures teaching methods, and have examined numerous mouths treated with these techniques. Some have looked great, others have not. It’s really not about the particular techniques or instruments utilized, but a reflection of the individual practitioners’ education and skill in providing the care. The idea of working on your knees in front of a unrestrained horse (as seen in the article) demonstrates either a lack of common sense or a lack of appreciation of ones’ physical well-being. One startled jump with a hoof contacting your head will definitely impact your work week! The fact is, with few exceptions, complete and proper dental care can not be provided to most horses without sedation. Asking a horse to tolerate the reduction of large hooks or other work in the back of the mouth un-sedated, can be extremely uncomfortable, inhumane and potentially dangerous for the horse. Show me a horse that was floated un-sedated and I’ll show you numerous areas in their mouth that were not properly addressed. As a side note, it was quite amusing to see the picture of me in the article working on a mule. Can’t place when or where the picture was taken though. Thanks for an excellent article, Scott
Nice to hear from you Scott and thanks for sharing your knowledge/experience – it is much appreciated. It would be amazing if you could get pictures of those mustang teeth – as a database archive. What an excellent resource and contribution to equine dentistry that would be! If you’re still seeing them, even 25-30 would make a great archive…
I totally hear what you say about safety concerns and each person must follow their own gut and body wisdom for what feels safe/wise for each of us. Having said that, I would SO love to find an equine dentist in my area willing to work unconventionally with my herd – just to come at things with fresh eyes, perhaps do some experimenting – and involve the horse more in the decision-making and treatment process.
For example, my horses have all their chiropractic and bodywork done unhaltered in a 10 acre field. It is entirely their choice whether to have treatment, how much, etc. And they not only request treatment, but they present the area that needs work. One of my recently semi-feral stallions had put his shoulder out and my chiro was worried because it’s a very painful adjustment. But he not only gave her his leg/shoulder, he moved INTO the pain and helped her pop it back in. Imagine if we could bring that same sentience and respect to dentistry?
Well, if that ever happens, I will be sure to write about it, if not video! And too funny that that is a photo of you 🙂 There was no photo credit on it, so I don’t know where it came from either – and of course, if you want me to remove it, just say the word.
Anyway, thanks for all the examples and experiences you shared and YES I totally agree that any technique is only as good as the individual practitioner.
Hi Jini, you’re welcome. I always enjoy sharing the insight that has been gifted to me over the years (by horsemen/women, experienced colleagues, and of course my patients). I am currently gathering data regarding the wild Mustangs dentition and will publish the results at some point in the near future. There is one issue that I would like to comment on. Any trainer that would recommend “don’t bother” working on a horses teeth unless they seem to be having “serious issues” is neither savvy nor very well educated. We don’t wait until a horse becomes lame before we manage imbalanced or improperly trimmed feet. Nor does our dentist wait until our teeth become loose and painful before recommending the removal of plaque and calculus, i.e. dental cleaning. We see the dental hygienist once or twice a year as a form of prophylactic or preventative therapy. The same should be true for the horse. Quality dental care should be provided BEFORE the horse ever demonstrates any issues associated with their teeth. The idea of caring for the horses’ teeth only after they’re showing symptoms makes me cringe and in my opinion is inhumane. Over the years, I’ve examined many horses and mules with large and deep ulcerations (caused by sharp dental points) involving their tongues, lips and cheek tissue that never showed any significant symptoms. Regular, quality dental care is a form of preventative medicine and can significantly improve a horses’ quality of life. No need to remove the photo, but thanks for the offer. Take Care, Scott
Rick Samuels from Erie pa has done an excellent job on my horses. He spent well over an hour with my ottb who was ballistic getting his teeth done. In subsequent visits my old guy with lots of teeth issues was very comfortable getting his teeth done. Rick travels widely doing teeth….even California and I would highly recommend him.
He sounds great – thanks so much for letting us know!
Spencer’s new website is called http://www.neuromuscularhorsedentistry.com.
Thanks Spencer – I updated it in the post. Thanks for all your good work! 🙂
One question: I notice that most of the photos on your new site now show horses being worked on in the more common position – with the human standing. Wondering what the reasons are for this shift, as working with the horse’s head closer to grazing position was a notable point of difference in your method?
Hi. It’s an old article but still topical. I agree to take the individual way of nutrition and the age of the horse into our considerations. So far to take mustangs as example to establish a concept will fail. The same missleading concept brought Dr Begg, an Australien human orthodontist of the 20th century, to the conclusion, studying skulls of Aboriginals, that everybody who needed tooth correction, should be left with 4 premolars extracted. Aborginals have a very different way of nutrition!
As a human dentist as I am, an integral way of viewing things should be a fundamental goal for every professional. To leave the points at the molars will lead to muscular tenseness, which will not be restricted to chewing muscles. It will affect the whole body with one-sided compensations. Don’t change the table angle! In general: As much as needed, as few as possible. Vertical head position is the normal point of departure. Regular intervals of control every year in young horses, later longer intervalls possible. Correction if needed. If possible no sedation. I follow this concept for my horses since many years.
Thanks for your perspective Thomas and for sharing your experience – it is a valuable contribution to this discussion. The interesting thing about the mustang comparison (who of course live lives very unlike domestic horses) is that we would also need to study the range of plants they forage. And what is the silica content, what is the ‘roughness’ etc? I just had an equine dentist (DVM) out to check some of my horses. My mare Zorra (age 14) whose previous owner said she MUST have her teeth done every year at least, had only 1 sharp point – but as I don’t ride her with a bit, the dentist advised I leave it alone, since that is the only thing it would impact. So she has had FIVE years of no dental treatments now (since she came to me). My other semi-feral mare, Audelina, has never even had her teeth examined before – we now know she is aged 7. And her teeth were perfect. Nothing needed. How can that be?
For the last 5 years my horses have had 24/7 access to LOW SUGAR (usually less than 10% NSC) in slow feeders. The value of allowing horses to “graze” at liberty simply cannot be downplayed (for many reasons). And this year, I switched them to 1st cut hay as it is coarser (still low sugar) and I felt/theorized that too would help them grind their own teeth. They also have access to 30 acres of forage, including forested areas. When I open up the back section for them in the summer, they ignore the beautiful grass and go straight to a variety of shrubs, leaves, bark, etc FIRST. Interesting.
So although, as you correctly pointed out, we can’t compare domestics to mustangs, we certainly can look at this fit, generally healthy (when they have enough terrain) horse population and try to extrapolate guidelines that we can adapt. I have also been trying to mimic/re-create footing surfaces (after referencing mustangs) and most of my horses can now self-trim their own hooves. Whole lotta freedom there for all of us!
Hi Jini. We talked about teeth and the impact of well-beeing to horses. Nutrition is an other part of it. To have much space is an important condition, where most other owners have no ideal circumstances (I know Europe best). The other point is the question, what you expect doing with horses. To leave them in big areas to graze and to have fun will probably not reveal muscle tenseness. The same for mustangs. Muscle tenseness can affect the whole body up to lameness in a chronical stadium. In wilderness these horses are the first to be victim of prey animals. Horses can suffer a lot, we all know. The last thing the would show is lameness. So you don’t see normally.
To reach a good balance between natural attrition and growth in every age of the horse for teeth and hoofs is a very difficult task with so many variables to consider, that most people will fail. I try to do so, but it’s hard, mostly impossible. Best wishes from Switzerland.
Yes very true. And with the spread of humans, land just gets smaller and smaller. I think the Paddock Paradise solution is the best one we currently have and has really taken off in Europe – where people often have only a few acres of land. Check out this video (2 acres in the Netherlands) if you haven’t seen it already (scroll down), I think what she’s done is brilliant and the only thing I’d change is to add more gravel surfaces so they can wear/trim their hooves:
I also think there’s a huge open door in the marketplace for hay growers to get savvy about offering more choice in low sugar hay. And also more variety to more closely mimic a ‘natural’ diet. My hay grower (who specializes in low sugar hay) has never had to advertise or even list his company anywhere and he keeps his customers for 20+ years. Course he’s also a stellar human being 🙂
would love to know if any manual, no -drug horse-teeth-geeks come out to the backwoods of northern Vancouver Island. in many years past we ‘floated’ our horse’s teeth with hand floats. one person holds the tongue out to the side, one person filed the cheek-side sharps down as best you can. now i happen to have two mares who came to me with extreme reactivity , one to any sort of confinement at all, being tied etc,,, she’d pull back & up, and flip herself over. the the other highly sensitive to being touched at all, esp. around the head, neck and ears. i have not been able to float their teeth myself. Girl’s teeth were ground down by a dvm cowboying with a power tool about 16 years ago. after reading Tomas Teskey in recent years i am finally enlightened to the needs of the incisors being balanced. But if there’s no one around to do it.. then what? the incisor hooks make me crazy to see, knowing they can be the cause of imbalance and tension thru the whole body. I’ve learned to balance/trim hooves now out of necessity.. i don’t think i could do their incisors without sedation .
Guliz recently met someone who sounds really good – tag her as he travels around. Hand float and lets the horse set the pace, position, etc 🙂
I did!! He was incredible. He stays under the radar though as he is not a “vet” PM me or email me for his information. ( No power tools and ONLY light sedation if necessary)
I have a horse in my life who is extremely sensitive and she was proof enough for his gentle and clear touch as well his agenda in listening to them! She let him and even asked for more in specific areas. It was so cool to watch. I also was able to watch the horses move as he worked and unwind any memory that created the imbalance in the teeth. Keeping in mind that the TMJ is directly affected as a pathology ( To emotional/physical/mental abuse)and will create lower lumbar challenges. So watching the unwinding of past traumas because he LET them move was so fascinating.The horses love him.
YES – the freedom of movement is SO important for all kinds of bodywork or healing. Even with massage therapy or chiropractic, if the horse is free to walk around, roll, get a drink of water, come back, the session is SO much more powerful.
Hello, would love to be able to get in touch with the fellow Guliz talks about! I live on the Sunshine Coast in BC and don’t want my horse to be subjected to power float tools.
I’ve been reading information on Tomas Tesky”s website and the Nueromuscular Dentistry website and would love to find someone who would work with my horse’s teeth in those ways.
Thank you for all the info you provide!
You’re welcome! You can email Guliz via her website and I’m sure she’ll be happy to share: http://equuarius.com/contact-me/
After realising my horses (on a hilly varied terrain track with 24/7 grazing and hay) can beautifully trim their own feet if I stop rasping them (as the hooves apparently adjust their growth rate to the amount of wear they get) I have started to wonder if the teeth also grow in equal response to wear/rasping, and that once we get into a regular cycle of tooth rasping the teeth actually erupt faster in response, thus creating more sharp points? That is just a theory, but I feel wild horses live on all sorts of terrains, some with softer plants and others with harder depending on the time of year. They must have evolved a way to adjust to that. I also appreciate that horses with mouths and jaws that don’t line up due to bad breeding away from the wild horse head shape probably need some help from dentists.
Very good points Katherine. Totally agree with you on the hoof trimming. I’ve never had to trim my dog’s toenails either, been 7 years now and my hardwood floors are unmarked. But like the horses, they get species-appropriate activity and enough of it 🙂 I notice with my wild horses they will occasionally go through periods of dropping partially-chewed hay and then within a month the problem is resolved. So their body obviously knows how to deal with occasional dental issues. But yes, I’ll bet both teeth and hooves respond very quickly to rasping –> increased growth. I got my Andalusian when she was 9 and her previous owner told me I had to be rigorous on both teeth and hooves because she grew them so quickly. Six years later she’s never had her teeth rasped (vet checked them last year, all good) and she now self-trims about 95%. So yeah. 24/7 hay – lots of coarse 1st cut – gravel footing in key areas and free movement. Et voila!
I recently watched a tv show about some of the horses rounded up from out in the wild in New Zealand. They were taken in by some girls (opposed to going to slaughter ) and many of them had extreme dental issues lots of broken cracked teeth and also teeth digging into the gums! I would be curious as to how the horses out in the wild in other areas of the world are doing in regards to teeth? Not sure if this was unique to New Zealand or if when you get down to it the wildies suffer a lot of issues more then we tend to think they do? Mother Nature has her ways and some are less then kind. But since humans have created (intentionally or unintentionally) a lot of the horses out in the wild (escaping or letting go) are most likely in incorrect environments for there species…even if surviving …it doesn’t always mean they are thriving? ✌🏼💚🐴
If the rounded up wild horses were first when caught kept in grassless corals (like the rounded up mustangs do), their teeth would have gone through a period without the grazing they need to wear down, as the round up horses live in dusty corrals and get thrown hay a few times a day from what I have seen with the mustang round ups.
Additionally, if the New Zealand horses are rounded up like mustangs are, being chased by helicopters for miles on end, it would not surprise me in the least if teeth get broken this way by the tension and pressure, and stumbling at high speeds. Many horses and foals are damaged and terrified in the round ups by the BLM.
How do you notice/ measure the speed of eruption of horses teeth? Trimming doesn’t mean get out of contact, normally. The jaws would be more apart from each other. I don’t think this will happen with hay/ grass / straw nutrition.