Ask the Vet: Equine Dental

Answered by, Reece Myran, DVM, Pooler, GA.
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: My 12-year-old OTTB gelding had single nasal discharge last Spring a week or two after having his teeth floated by a veterinarian. It took three rounds of antibiotics to clear and being a new owner, I didn’t know if it was allergies or something else. This year, the stable changed equine dentists and through discussion, we decided to X-ray him. He has a blunted nerve root on an upper molar (whichever is the oldest tooth) and it was recommended that we extract it prophillactly before it causes trouble again. I was all in at first but the possible risks have me concerned – fractured tooth, opening the sinus, prolonged lateral anesthesia. Now the question – please discuss the harm in waiting for another episode, would another abscess make the tooth easier to remove?

Answer:The scenario you describe is actually very common, in which (usually) an upper tooth (usually the first molar), develops what is called a periapical abscess. Since the roots of this tooth are close to one of the sinus’, often the first outward sign will be nasal drainage. I’ll need to avoid giving you any specific recommendations, but here are some generalities:

1) I’ve had many cases where a chronic sinus infection lingers for long enough that it becomes—if not permanent—at least semi-permanent. I would urge you to definitively treat this situation sooner rather than later (ie, not antibiotics alone).

2) There are certainly risks associated with tooth extraction, but those can be mitigated by proper planning and experience. Make sure that your veterinarian is very comfortable with the procedure—if not, they will certainly be willing to refer you to a veterinarian who is.

Question: Is it true the more frequently a horse’s teeth are floated the faster they grow? I purchased my Tennessee Walking horse when he was five, and had his teeth floated at 18-month intervals per the veterinarian’s recommendation. However, by the 12-month mark, he had sharp points cutting into his tongue and cheeks. I then began having them done every 12 months, but then he started showing signs of sharp molars at eight months! I recently learned that horses don’t have unlimited teeth growth; sooner or later they’ll run out. Last year my equine dentist and I agreed to push it back to a year. My guy is now 15-years-old and I’m concerned about the amount of tooth he has left. Have I floated his teeth too often?

Answer:I don’t know of any hard science to support the idea that more frequent floating will increase eruption rate. From your description, however, I would fully expect to see a 5-year-old developing sharp areas quickly, as this age range is a time of rapid tooth eruption in general. Keep in mind, development of sharp areas on the molars/premolars is completely natural! The horse’s mouth is well designed for chewing grass, and those sharp areas are necessary for proper cutting of the forage, and transfer to the back of the mouth for swallowing. Within reason, removal of some of those sharp areas may be necessary (especially for ridden horses), but I would urge you to continue having your horse’s mouth examined yearly, and be examined only by your veterinarian. There are not (for better or worse) any real guidelines for how often is “too often”. Your best bet is to trust the judgement of your veterinarian.