EQUINE DENTIST Dr. David Warren utilizes special tools that reach the back molars to grind down rough spots of a horse’s teeth in Victoria, Texas. For the past 18 years, Warren, 45, has fixed the oral problems of equines.

EQUINE DENTIST Dr. David Warren utilizes special tools that reach the back molars to grind down rough spots of a horse’s teeth in Victoria, Texas. For the past 18 years, Warren, 45, has fixed the oral problems of equines.

VICTORIA, Texas

Thumbing around the mouth of a horse is normal in David Warren’s line of work.

He’s a horse dentist.

For the past 18 years, Warren, 45, has fixed the oral problems of equines.

“There’s not many,” he said of equine dentists. “Regular dentists will do it, but not many just do this.”

He told The Victoria Advocate he saw a need to focus on the niche of equine dentistry and went into business for himself in 1996.

Now, he travels throughout the South Central Texas region as well as the occasional visit north to the Waco and Dallas area to meet horses who need his attention.

Warren’s truck is now his mobile clinic — full of tools and medicine for each exam, which can last about 30 to 40 minutes as long as there are no major issues.

Fitted into his truck’s bed, there are drawers and compartments that hold stainless steel tools that look like something out of a Frankenstein movie.

“This has prongs that fit under the gums to help you grip the tooth,” Warren said, pointing at a pair of 19-inch forceps.

Fortunately, it’s not often that he has to use them.

During a routine he’s executed thousands of times, he’ll use a stethoscope to listen to the hearts of all of his equine patients and then run his fingers near the eyes and jawbones of the horses to assess potential issues he might find when he puts his hands and arms in their mouths.

This time, Warren’s patient, Denver, a 7-year-old American Quarter Horse mare, has given him nothing to worry about.

A quick shot of sedatives will calm her down, which will also keep her owner Cathy Sullins safe from a nervous buck.

“It usually takes a minute or two to kick in,” said Warren, owner of Texas Equine Dentist and a longtime equine dentist based in Weesatche.

Once it does, Sullins, 51, of Victoria and co-head trainer for KnP Training, stands close by, stroking Denver’s gray coat as her eyelids start to droop.

Warren will prop Denver’s heavy head on a stand and drops to his knee to prepare to work. He tests the balance of her jaw and then checks the sharp points of her teeth, which can make it painful for a horse to not only eat but also wear a bridle.

“You can see a big difference between the before and after,” Kaylon Sullins Robinson, 27, of Lockhart, who is a horse trainer and Sullins’ daughter, said about the exam. “There’s a big difference in how they carry a bit.”

Part of her work as a trainer includes knowing the different kinds of bits available and the uses of each one.

Sullins Robinson said the bits and the horse’s dental hygiene are very closely related to how a horse will behave during training.

“Some people will train a horse, so the horse knows the bit,” she said. “People need to look more at the bits they use.”

It’s also important, Sullins added, that people know that a good bit can go bad.

Wear and tear from the horse’s teeth is normal because their teeth continue to grow well into their adult years.

That’s when Warren can step in and provide routine maintenance and ensure the horse and trainer are working as efficiently as possible given the bits used in training or performances.

“A good bit is one that works for your horse and is kind,” Sullins Robinson said.

Prepared with batterypowered floating tools, he can smooth Denver’s molars and ensure she can carry a bit with no problem.

His diamond-plated float blades are affixed to long stainless steel rods that help him reach her back teeth and make it more comfortable for her to grind her feed as well as avoid pain when carrying a bit.

With a few whirls and whizzes of his tools, the teeth become smooth, and Sullins will not have to worry whether her mare is uncomfortable.

It’s been a little over a year since Denver had a checkup with Warren, and in 12 more months, the sharp points that were dulled down will have grown again.

“If you’re not careful, you can cut yourself on them,” Sullins said.

Until then, Denver will recover from Warren’s sedatives and return to her normal routine free of buzzing tools in her mouth.

“Her exam was pretty average,” he said.

Keeping a horse’s mouth healthy can prolong the life of our beloved equine family members and help encourage good behavior.

Good oral health and training are closely related, Warren said. These tips can help keep horses comfortable and manageable when they’re being trained.

A horse’s teeth will continue to grow throughout its life. Depending on the age and breed of the horse, the teeth will grow at least oneeighth of an inch a year, Warren said. The teeth of a younger horse will grow more quickly and need to be checked more often to avoid problems with ulcers and cavities.

Horses can get cavities, too. The horse dentist said it doesn’t happen often, but it can. “Mainly because horses aren’t drinking sodas or sugary things,” Warren said. Sweet feed for horses probably isn’t as bad for horses as candy is for children, but there are times when he sees cavities. They can also suffer from rotten teeth and require extractions.

Training problems may relate to dental issues. Sure signs a horse has dental problems include dropping feed while eating, loss in weight and high-heading behavior, said Sullins Robinson. “Most important part of riding is what you are putting in their mouths,” she said. If the bit is rubbing against their wolf teeth or the bit seat doesn’t fit right against the horse’s molars, that could make a big difference in the training.

Consider the horse’s tongue when picking a bit. A horse’s tongue is not rough like a cow’s or a cat’s tongue. It’s soft and can easily be pinched by moving parts on a bit. There is about two inches of space from where the tongue rests and the roof of the horse’s mouth. Depending on the purpose of the bit, some are designed to hit the roof of the mouth while others are not.

Horses have a higher pain tolerance. Each horse is different, but a dentist would have to grind through about 4 millimeters of enamel before the nerves respond. “It’s like cutting a fingernail,” Sullins said. “They’ll feel it if you go too far.” Warren will sedate his equine patients, but sometimes, a horse may need a second shot before the end of an exam.


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