21st Century Technology Ushers in a New Era in Equine Dentistry
by Dr. Conrad Nightingale, D.V.M. Hill Country Veterinary Hospital and Equine Center, Bandera, Texas
Forward by Karen Brown, Solitaire Ranch, Bandera, Texas

Here at the Solitaire Ranch, basic health care, consisting of vaccinations, teeth floating, and sheath cleaning, is scheduled twice yearly. This spring when the vet arrived I was surprised and pleased to be introduced to his latest toy. Dr. Conrad Nightingale has joined the ranks of a growing number of veterinarians who are keeping pace with changing technologies in the advancement of equine dental care. Always on the cutting edge of new treatments and techniques, Dr. Nightingale makes it his business to obtain the latest developments in knowledge and tools in order to provide the best care available in today's world.

I asked Dr. Nightingale if he would write a description of the procedure commonly known as "floating" teeth. Dental care should be a regular part of any preventative maintenance program, yet there are many horse owners who are unfamiliar with the process. (To learn more about the horse's mouth and the benefits of equine dentistry read (Mystery Solved on Behavior Problems in the October 2001 issue of the HORSE GAZETTE).

In my horse training practice, I am frequently asked to evaluate problem horses. I consistently find that a very high percentage of all "problem horses" are merely reacting to undiagnosed physical pain. On average one out of four of these horses have miraculous behavioral changes after a thorough dental examination and corrective work. Proper dental care has eliminated dangerous behaviors such as bolting, flipping over backwards, and bucking in a number of my clients' horses. Oftentimes the results are less dramatic, but the process of increasing a horse's comfort can only produce favorable results. Quality dental care is one aspect of preventative maintenance that should not be ignored if you wish to have a healthy, happy, and manageable equine companion.

The following is an account of Dr. Nightingale's procedure for utilizing some of the newest technology on the market. The use of mechanically powered dentistry equipment has many advantages over the manual methods commonly practiced by most veterinarians. To mention a few, there is less damage to soft tissues inside the mouth, the procedure is much quicker and much less physically demanding on the practitioner, and accuracy and thoroughness are dramatically increased.


Equine practitioners are faced with daily physical challenges. Equine dentistry is especially demanding in time and physical effort. Recent efforts to improve the task of handling this aspect of veterinary practice can be partially attributed to Dr. Leon Scrutchfield, D.V.M. of Texas A & M and Dr. Clay Stubbs, D.V.M. of Johnson City, TX. Both veterinarians have perfected and taught techniques which saves time, effort and reduce stress on the equine patient. My THANKS to both these colleagues for sharing their techniques on motorized and compressor driven equipment.

Recently I was exposed to both a compressor driven and motor driven unit. I chose the motor driven POWERFLOAT basically because an electrical outlet was all that was needed for power and one carrying case which includes the POWERFLOAT, TUNGSTEN CARBIDE GRINDING WHEEL, HEADLAMP, CLEANING BRUSH AND LUBRICANT. I use the STUBBS FULL MOUTH SPECULUM, STUBBS ARCADE SPECULUM LIGHT and RECHARGEABLE BATTERY for dental examinations and corrective procedures.

The POWERFLOAT has been very useful in removing caudal hooks*, leveling ramps* and "wave mouth"* arcades, routine dental points*, leveling uneven teeth, performing bit seats*, grinding canine teeth*, and contouring incisors*. (*See sidebar for definitions)

My technique involves sedation with an Acepromazine, Xylazine, and Torbugesic combination injection administered intravenously. The patient is positioned either in a stall with an overhead beam to support the raised position of the head or in an equine stock. Dr. Scrutchfield suggests placing cotton in the horse's ears to lessen the reactions to the sound of the POWERFLOAT. Once the horse is sedated, an assistant flushes the mouth to clear any food particles or debris and applies the STUBBS FULL MOUTH SPECULUM and D & B EQUINE HALTER for head support. We carry extra eye screws to accommodate the halter rope in stalls with wooden doorframes. Visual assessment of both arcades* is performed using the STUBBS ARCADE LIGHT. Next a technician assists with minor tongue traction to the opposite side of the mouth from which I am floating. I wear a VersaBrite headlamp and earplugs. The 180-degree rotating head on the POWERFLOAT allows for upper and lower arcade floating with a simple twist of the shaft. The procedure begins with the POWERFLOAT at half speed to test the sedation of the horses with the sound of the motor and grinding wheel. If additional sedation is required I administer xylazine and/or torbugesic as needed intravenously. After the mid-mouth sedation test I move the head of the POWERFLOAT to the rear of the mouth until the grinding wheel protective guard touches the soft tissue behind the back teeth, then back off a quarter inch and begin floating at appropriate angles. As surfaces are contoured I move the head of the POWERFLOAT forward and finish at the front of the row of teeth. The POWERFLOAT is turned perpendicular to the head/arcade and a bit seat is performed. The head of the POWERFLOAT is quickly rotated 180-degrees for the lower arcade and the procedure is repeated. The horse's tongue is then positioned to the other side of the mouth by the assistant and the opposite side of the mouth is contoured.

After the arcades on the left and right are completed the mouth is flushed with a dose syringe and I re-examine with the STUBBS ARCADE LIGHT. Any necessary contouring is completed after this intraoral exam.

Finally, the STUBBS FULL MOUTH SPECULUM is shifted to each side respectively, over the incisors to allow for canine tooth reduction. The speculum is then removed and the incisors are examined and reduced with the use of a large or small mouth retainer supplied by D & B ENTERPRISES.

Reversal medication may be given after final mouth flush or other procedures are performed such as sheath cleaning.

Advantages of using power equipment are: extended physical longevity of the operator, less trauma to the equine mouth and tongue, less time to perform adequate surface reduction of major dental abnormalities, quicker return to normal eating and performance, less temporomandibular joint pain, more complete contouring of dental surfaces versus manual floating and better visual assessment during the floating procedure.

Client and patient acceptability has been rewarding and third day follow-up assessments have been positive. It is my opinion that horses owners should have their horse's teeth examined at least annually and possibly more often if the horse is over 15 years of age and has had previous dental concerns. I would encourage any equine practitioner to consider power equipment for adequate mouth contouring procedures.

Contact information for manufacturers/professional are as follows:

Dr. Conrad Nightingale, D.V.M., Hill Country Veterinary Hospital and Equine Center, Inc., 1413 State Highway 173 South, Bandera, TX 78003. 830-796-3787, FAX 830-796-3789,

Dr. Leon Scrutchfield, D.V.M., Veterinary Large Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, TAMU, College Station, TX 77843. 979-845-9135,

D & B Equine Enterprises, Inc., 207 Silverhill Way NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3B4K9. 403-615-2661, FAX 403-220-1630, Website: www.powerfloat.net.

Stubbs Equine Innovations, Inc., 2928 Flat Creek Road, Johnson City, TX 78636. 830-868-9344, FAX 830-868-9368.

Karen Brown, Solitaire Ranch, 305 Blackbuck Road, Bandera, TX 78003. 830-796-4764

Special thanks to Karen Brown of Solitaire Ranch for photo and equine subjects.

Dental Definitions

HOOK: overgrowth of a tooth that is more tall than deep. Usually has a fang-like appearance.

RAMP: Overgrowth of a tooth or teeth that is longer in depth than in height.

WAVE MOUTH: variable hi/lo range of the surface of the upper and lower molars which appears Awavey@ if the row of teeth could be viewed from the side.

ARCADE: row of teeth. POINTS: Sharp points are commonly found on the first and last cheek teeth and are created by the lack of abrasion from opposing grinding surfaces of upper and lower teeth.

BIT SEAT: mechanical placement of shallow angles into the very front edge of the upper and lower first cheek teeth providing a comfortable place for soft tissues of the mouth and a bit to rest.

GRINDING CANINES: shortening and blunting the canine teeth to reduce tongue abrasion and bit contact with the teeth.

CONTOURING: process of matching incisor length and leveling grinding surfaces to that of the molars.

INCISORS: Front set of teeth, 6 upper and 6 lower.

FULL MOUTH SPECULUM: metal device used to hold mouth open by allowing incisors to rest on upper and lower metal plates. Allows for complete visual inspection and access to all teeth.

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