The horse’s mouth is a complex functioning unit. Says Mary DeLorey, DVM, who cares for patients throughout Washington and Western Idaho with her ambulatory Northwest Equine Dentistry, “All the tissues of the mouth function as parts of that unit, and each is integral to overall dental health–and to health in general.”
Thus, a detailed oral examination is an essential part of any horse’s annual checkup. A normally wearing “arcade” of healthy teeth enables the horse to ingest and begin processing nutrients appropriately. So maintaining that arcade is a prime focus of equine dental care–and a major reason for a thorough yearly exam.
But floating the teeth shouldn’t be the examining veterinarian’s sole focus. As we’ll explain in this article, advances in instruments, imaging technologies, and surgical techniques are allowing veterinarians to examine and understand all parts of that complex unit better, and to diagnose and treat dental problems more effectively.
A full-mouth speculum is the standard device veterinarians use to keep a horse’s mouth open for examination. Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, who operates Easley Equine Dentistry as part of his Shelbyville, Ky., general practice, remembers when practitioners used general anesthesia before introducing a speculum, because “the only restraint capability we had was a twitch, and the speculum was brass and weighed 40 pounds–dangerous if the horse started swinging his head aro