Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dentist Visits

Yesterday we had a visit from our wonderful dentist - Mike Fragale from Salem, Wisconsin. Mike is a Certified Equine Dentist - he is not a vet - but has had extensive education in equine dentistry and is highly regarded by many in the horse industry - he travels around the country doing equine dentistry. Our wonderful chiropractor (who is a vet) travels with him to administer sedatives when he's in our part of the world.

He does things a little bit differently that some vets and other dentists. He never uses power tools or floats - he says there is too much risk of damaging the live parts of the horse's teeth. He works on the horses in a way that is comfortable for them, and does not use a stand or harness to hold up the horse's head - he gets down on one knee (he wears knee pads) so the sedated horse can hold its head in a relaxed position. Most horses seem very comfortable with him, and require less sedation than normal. Our very old horse Blackjack needed a loose front tooth removed last year and Mike did it without sedation while Blackjack stood on a loose lead rope - and Blackjack can often be very nervous around men - he wasn't with Mike.

He checks all but two of our barn's horses every year - but if they don't need work at that time he doesn't charge. Last year I believe he only worked on a couple of horses - a number of our horses had been seriously over-floated by our prior dentist and needed to grow more tooth before he could work effectively. Also, he's very cautious about working on our very senior horses - those over 25 - as they're no longer growing new tooth and anything you take away cannot grow back - it's a mistake to get their teeth too smooth as it impairs their ability to chew effectively. One of the main reasons we switched to using him as a dentist was a bad experience I had with my old horse Noble and our prior dentist - Noble was very nervous, even with extra sedation, and because he was chomping a lot and the dentist was in a hurry, the dentist opened the dental speculum too far - older horses have less flexible TMJs due to wear - and Noble's TMJs were injured to the extent that he was unable to chew for a week. Very bad stuff. Therefore we have a new dentist, who came highly recommended.

Mike believes a lot of the way many vets and dentists float horses' teeth, like many other things in the horse world, are purely and simply based on conventional thinking, and have little relationship to what's actually going on in the functioning of the horse's mouth. He's in the process of writing a book on this which will be interesting to read once its done. Mike, for example, doesn't do what some vets and dentists call "bit seats" - he says they make no logical sense in terms of how the bit is carried and adversely affect the dynamic relationship between the horse's TMJs and the front molars. He cares a lot about the function of the horse's mouth and how that relates to the horse's ability to move and carry itself. The TMJs are very important to the horse's overall body function, and obviously to how the horse can carry its head and work under saddle.

Here's Maisie being worked on - he's working on her front teeth which are particularly important to how the whole jaw functions:

And here Maisie is, resting with the speculum closed - he gives the horse breaks while he's working on their back teeth:

Here's Dawn having her turn - she had a number of fractured and chipped teeth in the back - perhaps she's been chewing metal in her spare time! None of these teeth were bothering her, so they were left in place. She looks pretty alert for a horse that's sedated - although she was very good:

The sedated horses were put in their stalls with water but no hay to recover, and then were turned back out for the rest of the day. They didn't have any pellets at dinnertime, but had their hay. No riding either - so everyone got a day off!


  1. Thanks for dentist review Kate, I've never been particularly impressed with some of the techniques I've seen used on the herd, and sometimes the results, neither; you've opened my eyes up to perhaps looks beyond the dentistry practices I've accepted.

  2. I like how this guy thinks about horses mouths and teeth! I have only had Gilly's teeth worked on once, he HATED it! He had to have several shots to sedate to where the guy could work on him; I didn't like that. He didn't have much wrong, just some sharp points the guy said. Don't know what to do if he does have real problems. Most vets around here don't really work on teeth, no specialists, and only one equine dentist, the one I had.
    I have read articles about horses teeth and the way your dentist worked on they, with heads down is good. That's the way a horse's jaws and teeth line up when they eat. When I feed Gilly and Pokey they eat at ground level. I hope that this helps they wear their teeth off the way they should.
    Good post.
    ~Jane and Gilly~

  3. Sounds like he knows what he is doing. How nice to have someone like this available, Kate!

    I was at a very interesting seminar a year ago, with a veterinary/dentist/chiropractor. She spoke about how many problems in the horse's body that originates in the mouth.
    She had quite a lot of good examples to illustrate this, and I must say that it was one of the better seminars I have been to.
    It was very fascinating to listen to her as she had such a broad view on problems being a "three-in-one"-vet.

  4. I'm sorry to hear about your previous dentist and the damage he caused your horses. This guy sounds very knowledgable and gentle.

  5. Wow, Kate, he sounds like an awesome dentist!

    Panama had his teeth floated for the first time recently. Although my dentist uses power floats, it's only for the first part of it -- he always finishes the job with a substantial amount of hand-floating, because he says that he can feel it through the float, and it keeps him from taking too much off. It makes sense -- it's like workking on a car, if you use a power tool to start threading a bolt, you can't feel if it's cross-threaded and therefore you can easily strip it out.

  6. We do our horses teeth on a regularly scheduled basis. It's one of the most important things I feel that we can do for our horses health.
    Of course, finding an equine dentist who is skilled at his job is worth looking for, glad you found a good guy.

  7. Wow, I wish he worked out here. We had a dentist for a while that put the horses in a narrow metal pipe stall and sedated them to work. I guess it was safer for him, but it just gave me an icky feeling, especially when he cleaned the geldings' sheaths'. It was just weird.

  8. My chiropractor always tells me that if a horse doesn't have a good farrier and a good dentist the adjustments won't hold. He feels feet and teeth are two key contributors to misalignments in horses.

    My dentist (a vet who specializes in dentistry) feels a bit differently about power tools on the older horses. Typical of the horse world - ask two different horse people the same question and get three different answers! Anyway, she does a combination of power and hand floating. She said with the older guys that the power float can be easier on their teeth and that the vigorous rocking of a hand float on the wrong tooth can actually help loosen a tooth that is already not in there is as well as it was a few years ago. I didn't say that exactly right but that is the gist of it. She does not do bit seats on my horses that are in work. I asked her about them once and she said basically what your dentist said.

  9. Melissa - your dentist has good point about loose teeth in older horses - it's a good idea to avoid tooth loss in seniors because it quickly affects their ability to chew, and your dentist seems very sensible from your description. My guy's a bit of a purist on the power tools issue, but he's very cautious when he does use hand tools with our seniors so I expect it's OK.

  10. Mike sounds great. I currently use my vet as my equine dentist as I have great faith in him. I do have some horse dentists around, though, whom I also know and respect.

    Just read a story from our local horse rescue about and elderly rescue horse who was losing weight and when they got him they found all kinds of tooth issues, most of which can be fixed with a proper floating or two. I wonder how long it had been since the poor fellow had his teeth done?

  11. Glad you've found a reputable dentist. He has some great advice by the sounds of it. Thanks for sharing with us all! Like the photos too. Keep up the good work.

  12. It is so nice reading about people and their experiences with their horses, especially when it comes to care! He does sound like a really sympathetic and good dentist though. Fortunately mine takes ok to the Horse Speculum so my dentist myself has showed and told me what to look for and that I should try and routinely check his mouth.


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