I recently attended the AAEP’s “Focus on Dentistry” meeting- a national conference dedicated to presenting the latest in equine dentistry research and techniques. The conference was held in Charlotte, so the travel was convenient and many of my semi-local friends and colleagues were able to attend. After spending three days seated (yikes), restlessly listening to lectures and watching Powerpoint presentations, I came away from the conference wondering what exactly we had just accomplished. The field of equine dentistry is advancing at a rocketing pace, but there is still SO much we don’t understand about the complicated dental structures and diseases of horses.
The field of equine dentistry was revolutionized with the advent of power instrumentation and modern tranquilizers. Prior to these conveniences, horses were simply backed into a corner and a (hopefully) polite dentist inserted a file into the horse’s mouth and “rasped” away the sharp edges. Now that this technique is obsolete, horses are sedated (for pain control and to alleviate anxiety) and a full-mouth speculum is used to grant visualization of the entire set of cheek teeth. Once dentists started evaluating the teeth and surrounding structures with lights and mirrors, suddenly we realized that there is MUCH more to equine dentistry than previously thought. Horses have cavities, periodontal disease, displaced (crooked) teeth, spaces between teeth that pack feed material, and a whole host of other dental and oral problems!
Now that we have recognized the myriad of equine dental problems, it’s time to decide what to do about them all. Herein apparently lies the problem. During the conference we discussed a blinding array of techniques to alleviate dental disease, but like any discipline in its infancy, there is simply not enough cohesive information to form any consensus. In addition, each evening we gathered with new and old friends to discuss cases over dinner. This was the most interesting part of the entire conference. As I asked around about the most common problem I see here in the Southern Pines/ Aberdeen area of NC, other dental providers from other areas were not seeing the same cluster of symptoms! I was astonished, since I had assumed that what I saw as a common problem would be a common problem in horses everywhere! I’m still not sure what to make of this finding. Obviously, there is something different about our horses here in NC. Is it the sand? The diet? The previous level of care provided? Something different entirely? I’m going to start keeping a spreadsheet based on my records, in an attempt to eventually identify some risk factors for the problems I commonly observed. I’ll keep you posted!