Frequently Asked Questions
Many of the questions that are asked about general equine dentistry have been addressed within the preceding pages.
Here are some other questions that we are asked most often, some specifically about our equine dental practice:
Do you travel to.....?
Our practice is limited to the state of Michigan (USA) and we travel all over the state.
Do you charge for a farm call?
No. We have a well-established client base throughout Michigan and are able to group appointments according to zip code. This also means that your appointment may need to be coordinated with other clients in your area. We appreciate everyone's patience and flexibility as we strive to keep mutual costs to a minimum.
Do you sedate?
Only licensed veterinarians, veterinarian technicians, and a horse's owner are legally allowed to administer sedation. We never carry any form of sedation with us and we will NOT personally administer sedation even if a client has sedation drugs on hand. The fact that we have thousands of clients in Michigan, have been in business for 20 years, and have referrals from DVMs themselves all across the state, is evidence that routine equine dental care with hand tools does not require sedation or restraint of any kind as long as your EqDT is also experienced in managing equine behavior. If your horse needs to be sedated for an advanced dental procedure, it is your responsibility to call your vet and coordinate the farm call so the vet can administer the required sedation for the procedure.
What's the difference between a power float and a hand float?
During a power float, a dremel-type power tool is used to remove the sharp edges of molars. During a hand float, a tool called a "float" is used to manually remove those same sharp edges. Float tools come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, angles, and textures in order to reach, and effectively float, different areas of a horse's mouth. Regardless of the type of float being performed, a speculum must be used in order to properly reach a horse's rear molars.
While the use of power tools may be required for some advanced procedures, they are not required to be used for a routine float. Power tools remove a lot of tooth structure very quickly so there is a greater risk for removing too much tooth (over-float) or dramatically (negatively) affecting the angles of the tooth surface. The use of power tools also requires the use of sedation, which adds risk and cost to the procedure. Sedated horses can react suddenly to stimuli while under sedation and mouth injuries have occurred because horses have moved unexpectedly during a power float. Horses who are power floated have their mouths held open with a speculum for an extended period of time which puts pressure on their TMJ. In adddition, due to the use of sedation, horses that have been sedated require recovery time before eating or riding. The benefit to power floating is largely to the practitioner who is performing the float; power floating can be faster than hand floating and there is less risk of injury to the practitioner because the horse is sedated for the procedure.
The biggest risk to a horse during a hand float is that the horse may be under-floated if the horse is uncooperative. An under-float is when too little tooth is removed preventing the achievement of a thorough float. A thorough hand float of an unsedated horse may take more time and patience so if your equine dental practitioner administers sedation in cases where a horse is being uncooperative, be sure that he/she is licensed as a vet or vet tech for your horse's safety.
My horse has always been sedated in the past. How do you get a horse to stand still for a routine float without using sedation?
Doug's is an experienced horseman. His understanding of horse behavior, and expertise in ground handling techniques, makes even the most difficult horse accepting of his annual visit. Doug begins by teaching the horse a cue to stop their feet and drop their head which is reinforced throughout the procedure. He does not use ropes or rigging as restraints... horses are free to move at will. In fact, he prefers to work in an arena if one is available. As he gives them breaks along the way, most horses become even more compliant as the procedure progresses bcause they can only associate the difference in their mouths with Doug's work. They are awake to know the difference. They also usually quickly learn that standing still is a lot less work for them.
Sedation-free dentistry offers less trauma and risk to horses who need routine procedures. Without sedation, horses can immediately associate the difference in the feel of their mouths and many begin to appreciate, and even lean into and enjoy, the float procedure.
I was told that only vets can reach the back molars for a proper float. Is this true?
No, it is not true. What IS true is that a speculum is required to reach the back molars and a properly trained EqDT should not need sedation to have the horse accept the speculum. It's possible that the the person who told you this witnessed an equine dental practitioner who was not properly trained, or one who was cutting corners and not performing a thorough float, or one who attempted to use a speculum and could not get the horse to accept it. A speculum MUST be used in order to perform a thorough float and reach the rear molars. It is impossible to reach the rear molars without a speculum. However, just because your equine dental practitioner has the right tools doesn't mean that he or she is floating correctly. If you have any questions about how thoroughly your equine dental practitioner is performing a float, ask to SEE the "before" and "after." A reputable equine dental practitioner should happily, and without hesitation, show you the difference. Doug has all of the proper tools and equipment to perform a complete float, including rear molar hook removal if necessary.
Does the speculum hurt the horse?
The speculum is a device used to hold a horse's mouth open for a dental exam or for dental procedures themselves. The mouth plates cover the horse's incisors and an equine dental practitioner is able to lock the speculum in place in order to perform a dental exam or procedure thoroughly and safely. Using a speculum is the only way that the rear molars can be reached.... these molars reach far into a horse's jaw, in alignment with their eye sockets.
Horses also have a Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) which consists of bone, cartilage, and very sensitive nerves in the the skull where the backs of the jaws meet. When the TMJ is abused or damaged, this causes a horse very severe pain while chewing or with jaw movement. The affected nerves heal very slowly. Left without proper dental balance through regular dental floating, the horse may even have permanent nerve damage. A horse experiencing TMJ discomfort or pain might find it aggravated if its' jaw is held open with a speculum for any length of time. This is why Doug offers each horse many breaks during the course of a float procedure. These breaks help keep the horse comfortable and also helps them 'feel' the difference in their mouths so they know that the work that's being done is making them more comfortable. This cannot be accomplished if a horse is sedated for the procedure.
Does reducing the canine teeth hurt the horse?
Canine teeth are the teeth that appear immediately behind the incisors in a horse's mouth. Although they appear predominantly in a male horse as 'fighting teeth', they do appear occasionally in female horses as well. Domesticated horses do not need their canine teeth for fighting and as canine teeth continue to erupt, they meet little opposition. As a result, they inevitably become long and sharp. If canine teeth are not reduced, they can interfere with the bit and get so long as to pierce the opposing palate. Canine teeth are also predisposed to collecting tartar which can cause the gum around the tooth to become swollen and irritated, much like gingivitis in humans. While it's not necessary to reduce canine teeth every year, checking these teeth should be part of every routine dental exam.
If canine teeth need to be reduced, Doug uses sharp nippers to 'cut' the tip of the tooth off so that the tooth is reduced to a more comfortable length. There are no nerves in the part of the tooth that's being removed so the horse feels no discomfort, although they may react at the sound of the nippers cutting the tip of the tooth. (Many owners will react to the sound as well!) Doug then uses a file to buff the sharp edges to ensure that there are no jagged edges that might cause discomfort to the horse.
I think my horse has wolf teeth. Can you remove them?
Some people get confused between canine teeth and wolf teeth. Canine teeth appear immediately behind the incisors (see Question (8) while wolf teeth appear directly in front of the first molars, at the very back of the bars of a horse's mouth. Wolf teeth can cause significant discomfort to a horse who has a bit in his/her mouth. When the bit comes into contact with a wolf tooth, the horse will often react by throwing his/her head in an effort to avoid that discomfort.
We recommended that wolf teeth be extracted as early as possible to permit clean extraction of the root. If left alone, over time the root of a wolf tooth can occify to the bone and extraction becomes more difficult. Males horses typically have their wolf teeth removed when they are gelded.
A horse does not need to be sedated for the extraction of wolf teeth so yes, we can remove them. A tool called an elevator is used to loosen the tissue at the base of the tooth and an extractor is used immediately to remove the loosened tooth. Bleeding is normal but it will stop within a very short time. Feeding of any sweet feed, treats, or grains that contain any sugar should be avoided for at least 48 hours until the gum has healed.
Why might I see some blood while my horse is being floated?
Horses that have developed very sharp edges along their molars also typically have raw tissue on the inside of their cheeks from the abrasion of the molars as they chew. This is often why you will see a horse tip its head to one side or another as it eats in order to try and alleviate the pressure and pain it feels inside his/her cheeks. As the float reduces the sharp edges, it also encounters the cheek tissue and may open up scabs that have formed. You may see blood on the end of the float as a result. This appearance of blood is normal for a horse whose molar edges have caused interior cheek abrasions. The discomfort from the inside of their cheeks being rubbed raw from the sharp edges of their molars is immediately relieved once the float is throughly completed. However, it may take 1-2 weeks for the inside of their cheeks to heal, depending on the degree of abrasion from the molars' sharp edges. If you are able to rinse your horse's mouth with warm salt water, this process will assist with healing, but it is not required as aftercare. The horse will heal quite sufficiently if left on its own.
How soon after a float should I see in difference in my horse?
If you noticed physical signs of discomfort as your horse was chewing its feed prior to your dental visit, those signs should disappear soon after his/her teeth have been properly floated. In most cases, the response to a proper float is immediate. In other cases, it takes time for the horse to adjust to the new chewing surface of their teeth, especially if their dental health had not been addressed in 2 or more years.
Some horses are just sloppy eaters.... most horses will eat with their heads down but if they pick their head up to chew, they will more than likely drop grain regardless of whether their teeth have been recently floated or not. Many will raise their heads to eat if they have a hook that prevents their bottom jaw from sliding forward properly when they drop their head. But some just raise their heads because they can and want to look around when they eat.
As far as discomfort from the inside of their cheeks being rubbed raw from the sharp edges of their molars, that pain is immediately relieved after a proper float. However, it may take 1-2 weeks for the inside of their cheeks to heal, depending on the degree of abrasion from the molars' sharp edges.
How soon can I ride my horse after my dental visit?
If your horse experienced a routine float without sedation, you may ride your horse immediately. In fact, we encourage you to ride as soon as possible so that your horse can feel the difference in how their teeth feel after their float with a bit in their mouth. Keep in mind that if your horse experienced discomfort due to its teeth when bitted, your horse may still anticipate discomfort until he/she realizes that the discomfort is no longer present. Give your horse a couple of rides to adjust to the new feeling in his/her mouth. Once a horse has had its teeth properly floated (and there are no other physical issues affecting your horse's performance), any unwelcome behavior could be considered a training issue and should be managed accordingly.
If your horse had wolf teeth extracted during the dental visit, we recommend that you wait for the gum tissue to heal before riding with a soft hand, approximately 48 hours. Each extraction is different, however, so please ask Doug if you have any concerns about post-extraction riding.
What are "bit seats"? Can you do them for my horse?
A “bit seat” may also be referred to as a "performance float" to make it sound more appealing to horse owners. DVMs and dental technicians also typically charge more for this advanced-sounding procedure due to the extra effort it takes to complete, which can be done manually, or with the use of power tools. Creating a bit seat involves the beveling of both upper and lower front molars on both sides of the mouth. The purpose, some believe, is to reduce the irritation caused by the bit as it bumps the front edges of the horse's front molars when pressure is applied to the reins.
There are many schools of thought on the value of bit seats. They used to be a lot more prevalent in the horse industry than they are today. Some believe, our practice included, that instead of relying on a bit seat for "comfort", the use of a properly fitting bit, having a properly adjusted bridle (and saddle), and using proper rein pressure (trained, light hands) is much more effective in achieving control when riding. Consider that the purpose of the bit is to produce pressure in a horse's mouth so that the horse responds to the pressure that is applied. Why create more comfort for the horse, thereby lessening the effectiveness of your pressure? In addition, if your horse has not had his/her wolf teeth extracted, bit seats are completely useless since the wolf teeth cause significant discomfort for most horses when they are bitted. Consider, as well, that bit seats involved intentional removal of the horse's enamel, which, if not done properly, may cause irreparable damage to the tooth structure. Dental procedures should be performed with the intent of preserving overall tooth structure, not to negatively impact the integrity of them.
A horse owner considering a bit seat for their horse should be seeking advice from a highly qualified and very well experienced DVM or dental technician, who understands the anatomy of a horse's mouth, proper bitting for your riding discipline, as well as understanding your horse's behavior and experience level under saddle. The arbitrary use of bit seats as an easy 'fix' for your horse's behavior under saddle is strongly discouraged by our practice.
If it would help get me an appointment sooner, I can trailer my horse to wherever you will be next time you're in my area. Can that be arranged?
No. There are two reasons why we will not promote this activity:
Horses are less distracted in their home environment and because they are in familiar surroundings, they are more inclined to readily give Doug their attention during the float procedure.
But most importantly:
We will never ask one of our clients to accept liability/responsibility for someone else's horse(s) on their property. If you are arranging to coordinate with a friend, that's different, but we will not make any such arrangements on your behalf.
Do I have to be there with my horse? Can I just leave a check? Will I have to hold my horse?
For liability purposes, a responsible adult needs to meet Doug for the farm call, whether it's the owner, barn owner, or another designated representative (family or friend). If you know in advance that you will not be meeting Doug, please ensure that we have the name and phone number of the person whom he's meeting, in the event he's running early or late for your designated appointment timeframe. No one will have to hold the horse; Doug even uses his own halter. Payment is due when services are rendered, so if you cannot be there and do not plan to leave a check, payment must be pre-arranged by credit card, debit card, or through PayPal.
What do I need to know if I'm considering equine dentistry as a career?
To be successful as an Eq/DT, you need to be an experienced horseman/horsewoman FIRST. Dental schools/training academies do not teach you how to manage horses who decide to be uncooperative. In a barn of five horses for example, you're bound to have at least one that's difficult, so if you can't manage the difficult one, you will likely lose all of the business at that barn. Doug distinguishes himself from all other Eq/DTs because he’s built his reputation on being able to hand float very difficult horses without assistance, including those that DVMs have not been able to handle under max sedation. A routine hand float does not require sedation if an Eq/DT is an experienced horseperson.
Keep in mind that it is ILLEGAL for you to sedate a horse if you are not the owner or a licensed DVM/LVT. For advanced procedures like molar extraction, or parrot mouth correction where power tools would be required, sedation is required. The horse owner may choose to coordinate their appt with a DVM who can sedate their horse for them, which you would need to factor into your farm call scheduling, or the owner could acquire sedation like oral Dermosedan that they can administer themselves. If a horse owner is seeking a routine hand float for their horse without sedation, you will not receive a phone call to return to their farm if you cannot get the work done thoroughly and professionally.
It goes without saying that in addition to managing a horse's behavior, there is required technical knowledge and proficiency that must be achieved by formal training in order to be qualified to perform equine dentistry. There are plenty of available avenues to learn about the alternatives to achieve formal training so we won’t address those here. In terms of additional knowledge that might be required, clients also often wish to discuss the best way to meet the nutritional needs of their horses, especially of their horse’s dental condition is a concern. You should have a basic understanding of equine nutrition however, always refer the owner to their DVM to confirm their specific horse’s needs.
A certain amount of physical strength and stamina is also required to be able to hand float a horse. The act of floating a difficult horse - really, any horse, not just the difficult ones - is very physically demanding just by itself, but even if you’re multiple horses a day, your arms and shoulders will feel it. If you get cut by a sharp canine while you’re buffing a reduction, or wind up with a puncture wound if an uncooperative mini catches you while you’re floating its front molars, you’ll be viewed as less than professional if you can’t brush it off and continue with your float.
In addition, an Eq/DT doesn't always have the luxury of a nice warm barn to work within. In fact, it's pretty rare. If an owner does have a barn, it is most likely unheated and often very drafty, and it’s often a bit of a distance from where you would have to park your vehicle (the type of which must also be a consideration). This may mean carrying all of your tools with you, through mud or snow, regardless of the distance. Some barns have hot water, some don't... and some don’t have water at all. You also have to be prepared for that in the wintertime, especially here in Michigan. An Eq/DT can't be worn out before they even reach the barn. If it's 30 degrees, snowing, and the wind is howling, you’re going to be cold. And wet. You can't care about mud, flies, dogs and cats underfoot, or any of the other conditions that might be present on a horse owner's property. If you’re working in an arena with deep footing, you’re going to get tired working with an uncooperative horse. An Eq/DT must be able to assess the physical conditions of where they are floating and determine the safest way to float the horse(s) safely and properly, with the safety for the horse, owner, and themselves in mind at all times.
You’ll need to be able to repair your equipment while you’re on a farm call. If a spring on your speculum breaks during the floating of the 2nd of 5 horses at your first stop of the day, 200 miles from your home base, or if you lose one of your grips, you’re going to need to make repairs quickly in order to continue on with your day. And by the way, being capable of changing your own tire if you have a flat en route also minimizes the disruption to your clients.
To be successful, an Eq/DT must also be proficient in business management and have good people skills. Client relations are critical, since the majority of this type of business is acquired by word of mouth. But if you plan to advertise, you’ll need to factor in the cost of that as well. You’ll have expenses for bank fees, office supplies, tools, equipment and other supplies, clothing, travel, meals and accommodations if you’re on the road, in addition to the cost of maintaining your vehicle, all of which need to be balanced against your income.
An Eq/DT must be able to manage routing logistics and accounting (collections on NSF checks, taxes, etc) properly, all while responding to clients in a timely manner. Nothing annoys a horse owner more than a (any) practitioner who does not return messages. If an Eq/DT does not have administrative help, they must be prepared to manage their own business and return client calls after they've returned from a long day of farm calls. An aspiring Eq/DT, or even an established one for that matter, cannot afford to lose prospective clients due to poor business management practices. Having a presence on social media is also becoming critical as well, especially since word of mouth travels even faster that way.
An Eq/DT also needs to be able to interact with a variety of personalities... from the experienced horse owner or trainer who might try to tell them how to do their job or how to handle their horse, to the owner who considers their horse to be one of their “children”, to a 4H'er who simply wants to observe and ask questions that the Eq/DT may have answered 100 times that day already. Each client is an individual and their needs are equally important to recognize.
The satisfaction and fulfillment of knowing that you’ve made a difference in a horse’s ability to thrive is one of the main reasons that people consider equine dentistry as a career. Eq/DTs must have genuine compassion for their two-legged and four-legged clients. Being successful as an EQ/DT requires much more than having technical knowledge acquired during training. You’ll need the skills required of any small business owner, in addition to being physically capable of sustaining your ability to hand float cooperative and uncooperative horses. Best of luck to you and you consider equine dentistry as a career!
Footnote – This information has been provided from personal experience as a summary of the types of questions Doug receives about equine dentistry as a profession. Doug is often asked whether he permits job shadowing or interning; he does not. There’s too much liability involved and Doug’s first responsibility is to his clients and to respecting their time and expectations for his service.