It's pretty cold today - due to the strong winds the wind chill this morning was about 10F - not quite full face mask weather but getting close. It is a full long underwear day, though. We've got snow flurries blowing around, but no accumulation expected.
Today Pie had a visit from our equine dentist, Mike Fragale. Mike is a hard person to get an appointment with - he travels all over the country. He normally does our horses in the late spring, but since Pie is 4 and has never had his teeth done, I wanted him seen before we do any softening work using a bit.
Mike practices natural balance dentistry, which is a particular way of thinking about equine dentistry. He does some things that are usually done by equine dentists, he doesn't do some things they usually do, and he does a number of things they don't usually do. He never uses power tools, and works in a way that is most comfortable for the horse (rather than the person doing the dental work) and that also allows him to best assess the functioning of the jaw. This means he doesn't put the horse's head in a sling, but rather allows the horse's head to be unconstrained and to hang down if necessary, which requires Mike to kneel at times to work on the horse's mouth - he does wear knee pads. He does use sedation, although as little as possible. As I understand it, most equine dentists (and vets that do dental work) focus primarily on evening out the horse's molars, removing points, hooks and waves, often using power floating tools. They also often install what are called "bit seats", rounding off the front premolars, supposedly to improve the functioning of the bit.
Mike's approach is somewhat different. He focuses on the alignment of the incisors, the lateral excursion of the jaw from side to side - this creates the shearing action that allows the horse to chew forage - and the correct functioning of the temporomandibular (TMJ) joints that attach the jaw to the skull. He does remove any points, hooks or rims that interfere with side-to-side motion or which are irritating the tongue or cheeks, but his objective is not to create a smooth mouth - a horse with a smooth mouth, where all roughness on the surface of the teeth has been removed, will have difficulty chewing. A smooth mouth is particularly problematic in the case of a senior horse, where the teeth may no longer be erupting. My Noble had this problem due to the dentist we were using prior to Mike - his teeth were overfloated using power tools, leaving him with much less effective chewing surfaces. Mike prefers not to use power tools because it's too easy to take off too much tooth or overfloat, and because power tools can overheat the teeth to the point of damaging their structure. (I have a suspicion that the reason so many dentists and vets use power floats is that it's easier for them and allows them to do more horses more quickly.) He also doesn't do "bit seats" - he says the bit should never contact the horse's teeth in any event if the horse is properly bitted - because the alignment of the premolars has important implications for the alignment of the entire dental arcade.
The overall objective is a jaw where lateral movement from side to side is equal and unimpeded and where the angle and alignment of the incisors, and the angle and alignment of the pre-molars and molars, permit the TMJs to function normally, without being stressed, allowing the jaws to function properly. Our equine chiropractor will often not work on a horse until the dental and TMJ issues have been addressed - they affect the whole horse and how it uses its body, and no amount of chiropractic work will properly address the issues in the horse's body that are created by poor dental alignment or one or more TMJs that can't work properly. I saw how important lateral movement of the jaw is with Maisie - when Mike started to work on her a number of years ago, she had almost no lateral movement to one side, which affected her ability to chew as well as soften to the bit, and affected her entire body. As that was gradually fixed, and we did chiropractic, her ability to soften and her ability to move improved. Here's two pictures of Mike working on Maisie and Dawn last June:
Here's a close-up of him working last year on Dawn - he's working on her incisors and has his left hand fully inside and across her mouth:
One thing I also really like about Mike is that, before the horse is sedated, he carefully assesses the horse's mouth and only does work if it is needed - and he doesn't charge if he doesn't do any work. We've had him out before to look at a number of horses, and sometimes he only ends up doing work on a few. If a horse needs major changes, he will usually do them gradually over a number of annual or twice a year visits. He also takes into account the shape and structure of each horse's head - many horses have asymmetries that have to be taken into account in working on the teeth.
(I do believe that a usual equine dentist, or a vet doing equine dentistry, can help many horses, so long as they proceed with care and aren't in a hurry. But I do think it's important for horse owners to learn as much as they can about equine dental matters to properly select and supervise the equine dentist. I feel the same way about farriers/hoofcare providers, and about vets and chiropractors - we horse owners can't be experts in all these fields but we should learn as much as we can and pay attention to what is being done with our horses - in the end we're the ones who are responsible to be sure our horses get good care.)
Although Pie had never met a dentist before, he was a model patient, both for the sedation shot - he didn't move a muscle - and for the dental work. Mike, who has a number of fine quarter horses himself, said that Pie was quite a well-put-together horse. He did say that he might grow an inch or two more taller (I hope not) and would likely fill out a bit more. Pie took only slight sedation. Mike said that Pie had all of his adult teeth (at 4 years and 7 months old - some warmbloods take longer), but that some of his molars were only partially emerged. He did have some unevenness in his dental arcade due to some teeth being more fully emerged than others. Mike didn't do that much to his teeth since they will change so much in the next six months - this is about the most active period of dental eruption. Mike took a bit off some rims protruding above the place of the dental arcade on several molar teeth, and did some slight evening up of the incisors. He said he wanted to be conservative at this point since Pie's mouth had some growing up to do. Pie's mouth was bascially in very good shape, as were his TMJs.
Due to the low light in the barn and not using a flash to disturb the work, I failed to get any good pictures. This is the only one that isn't too blurry - this is Mike assessing the incisors as he was working:
The interesting thing was that the longer Mike worked, the more cooperative and participatory Pie was. Even as the sedation was wearing off, Pie stood well and really began to relax - he figured out that Mike wasn't going to hurt him and did his best to help Mike out. Mike commented on what a fine smart young horse he was. Good Pie!