Pearly Whites. Chompers. Hounslow Heath. Grills. Your teeth are a necessary body part, but as anyone who has been to the dentist lately knows, they're an expensive one to maintain.
People spend thousands of dollars to get the perfect smile. Braces, whiteners, crowns, dentures. Apparently we'll spend around 36 days of our lives brushing our teeth. As I write this, I'm wearing whitening strips I got from a Spring Carnival goodie bag.
*Good dental hygiene is important for horses too!
Whilst we aren't the only ones who need to take care of our teeth, equine dentistry practices have nothing to do with vanity. Good teeth are extremely important to ensure the health and well-being of your horse, and just like humans, regular six-monthly check ups are recommended.
Also just like us, horses have two successive sets of teeth - milk 'baby' teeth that they are either born with or get within the first week after birth, and permanent 'adult' teeth. Horses are also heterodontous, meaning they have teeth in more than one shape (there up are to five shapes of tooth in a horse's mouth).
The common saying "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" (referencing an ungrateful gift receiver) is taken from an era when gifting horses was common. The teeth of a horse are a good indication of the age of the animal, and it was considered rude to inspect the teeth of a gifted animal in the same manner that you would inspect a horse you were purchasing.
An equine dentist performs routine dental examinations as well as correcting any issues. Whilst a horse's teeth are designed to grind against each other during chewing, sharp or broken teeth can cause cheek lacerations or ulcers. Soft baby teeth can become irregular due to the use of different styles of bits in their mouths during training. In the same way we may get cranky or lethargic because of a tooth ache, a horse with teeth and mouth issues will show it through its behaviour, feed efficiency and their racing performance.
Whilst equine dentistry was practiced as far back as 600 BCE in China, the first veterinary dental school wasn't founded until 1762, in France. The tools equine dentists use are very similar to those you'd find in a human dental surgery, just larger. Motorised equipment is increasing in popularity over traditional hand-held tools. Think drills, hooks, rinsers and forceps for teeth extraction, plus a variety of specialised equipment, including:
*Rasps - long metal rods used to grind down a horse's teeth that are growing too long. Nails down a blackboard is probably the best way to describe the sound of a horse's teeth being rasped!
*Speculum Head Pieces - Despite looking like a medieval torture device, this mouth piece is used to hold a horse's mouth open and are reasonably comfortable for the horse to wear. Sedation may also be used to keep the horse calm during proceedings.
*Head lamps - Worn by the dentist to shine more light into the back of horse's mouth for better visibility.
Looking for a new racing industry career, or perhaps a part time role that doesn't involve a 4am start in the stables? The Equine Dental Association of Australia offers a 12 month Certificate IV in Equine Dentistry and provides a great opportunity to work in a fantastic industry, either for an already established company or as a sole trader. And who knows, it may even prove just as lucrative as human dentistry!
*Images L to R: A horse's skull, A selection of rasps, Equine dentist turned horse trainer Josh Julius working on a patient wearing a speculum. Image courtesy The Standard.