Be it as it may, I will share my understanding of the history of equine dentistry. A lot of history about horsemanship has been lost because it wasn’t written down and we’re left to wonder “how did they do it? How did they get things done?”
First of all, how do we define a “horseman”? I think the majority of people today would think of what people accomplish with horses as defining their horsemanship, such as horse trainers. My feeling is that in “the days of old” people were more versatile in their areas of expertise with horses, much like barbers. A barbershop was a place to go for many of your health concerns, especially if there wasn’t a doctor in town.
My personal observation of my family is that in the early years of my grandfather’s generation, (late 1800s to early 1900s) there were two family members that did dentistry. They were ranchers and horsemen and they looked after their own horses and those of friends and family. It wasn’t a business or profession for them. It was just a responsibility that they knew they needed doing and somebody needed to be there to do it.
Prior to World War II we still had livery stables in town and the blacksmith would look after your horses hoof care, nutrition, ailments, and equine dentistry. To an extent they were a one stop shop, maintaining your horse and the wagons and harness when needed.
Records show that the Cavalry had more soldiers trained to do equine dentistry than they did to do hoof care. What conclusion can we draw from that? Did they put more priority on dentistry? Maybe they knew that for a horse to operate properly with a bit,they had to have a sound mouth. It’s just like if horse is going to operate properly on all four legs, those legs need to be sound.
Veterinary medicine started being taught and practiced as a profession in the late 1800s, mostly dealing with large farm animals. After World War II the need for horses changed along with the mechanized revolution. Instead of providing the horsepower for industry and agriculture, horses were largely converted to recreation animals. Veterinarians, for the most part, left equine dentistry to the blacksmiths and experienced horsemen to take care of themselves. Although veterinarians may have had an opinion, historically they rarely picked up tools for hoof care or equine dentistry.
So the mid-1900s saw a shift in equine dentistry. With the blacksmiths and Calvary gone, the large horse breeders like my family scaled way back and the need for thses ranches almost disappeared. With veterinarians as a rule not taking up the slack, there were very few to look after the equine dentistry needs. There was very little knowledge written down or passed on to the next generation. Through the 1950s and 60s an equine dentist got harder to find and the people with enough knowledge to know that their horse needed a dentist got scarce as well.
It was during this period that Dale Jefferies had the foresight to see where we were headed. Textbooks were scarce and mentors were scarce so he went to work researching any way he could to gain knowledge on the subject of equine dentistry. With a packing plant nearby, he had unlimited access to horse skulls. He researched and compared the teeth of hundreds of horses of different ages and breeds with different diseases and dental problems. He researched army records and manuals and any other reading material on the subject to guide him. He started modifying and building his own tools to improve on what was available to him at the time.
He was not welcome by the established veterinary providers. Although they had very little to offer in their profession, there was a lot of resistance to what Dale was trying to accomplish. Regardless, he was persistent and tried to work with them rather than against them. Dale ended up establishing a school to train people in equine dentistry. Students from all over the world come to his school including some veterinarians.
There are other private equine dentistry schools around, but even today to my knowledge, very little is taught in veterinary school about equine dentistry. For the most part, if a veterinarian is going to learn dentistry, they have to learn it from a private school or lay dentist. In my travels I have seen equine dentistry grow immensely compared to what it was a few decades ago. Professional and recreational horse people alike are much more educated today to their horses dentistry needs.
The progress made in the last few decades, in my opinion, is literally a lifesaver for the horse industry. There’s no doubt a lot of horses in the mid-1900s went to slaughter because they were not not serviceable in their profession. We now know that inadequate dental care can quickly lead a horse’s demise.
Today there is no lack of knowledge or adequate people to practice equine dentistry like three decades ago. It’s no longer much of a problem to track down a competent equine dentist. The problem we have now is that the veterinary profession is trying to control the dentistry profession, both here in the US and worldwide. Most every country I visit faces this same issue. We don’t have a choice about who works on our horse’s teeth. We are free to choose the services of farriers, transport people, breeding facilities, and many other professions that administer injections in the best interest of our horses. But non DVM equine dentists are still looked on as outlaws for filling the gap of needed care that the veterinary profession has left in a void.
I have no prejudice about who gets the job done for me. Like most people, I just want the best for my horses. Maybe someday we as horse owners can get organized to do our own lobbying to reverse the bureaucracy and eliminate this resistance.
I look forward to the questions and comments that people would like to share with Dale and I in this upcoming virtual clinic. Join us here
From Dale Jeffries:
What Is Equine Dentistry (Equine Gnathology)
For the most part what has been called equine dentistry is truly equine gnathology. Equine gnathology has to do with the form and function of horses teeth. Most of the practice has to do with taking parts of the teeth away that should have worn away normally. These taller than normal areas include points on the outer edges of the upper cheek teeth and the inner edges of the lower cheek teeth. They also include any protuberant areas on the teeth tables such as steps, ramps and hooks on the cheek teeth and areas lacking abrasion of the incisors. Longer than normal incisors prevent cheek teeth from coming together inhibiting normal occlusion of the cheek teeth. The goal of proper equine gnathology includes the balancing of the teeth enhancing performance and nutrition. It sounds simple but can be involve fairly complex procedures considering the practitioner is operating on occlusal planes that need to meet and match perfectly. Not only do the planes of the teeth need to match perfectly temporal mandibular joints and incisors need to have uniform pressure for correct mastication and performance.
Why do horses teeth need filing or equilibration? The teeth of the horse are ever erupting until they are gone at about twenty five years of age or so. They have most of their length at about five years of age or shortly thereafter and continue to erupt like the lead being screwed out from a lead pencil until the lead is gone. They erupt throughout the horses’ life at the same rate they wear until the reserve crowns are used up, usually late in life at about 25 years or so. Correct maintenance of the teeth can extend their life 5 to 10 years whereas incorrect maintenance can shorten their life by the same amount.
When it comes to performance dental issues become paramount. No matter the choice in equipment pressure of soft tissue against sharp points and protuberant bruising areas create pain, confusion and ill manners resulting in poor behavior and many accidents. The largest cause of farm and ranch accidents are horses. I know of many incidents where riders have been maimed and killed due to sharp teeth. Sharp upper front cheek teeth will cause a horse to be light in the front or even rear up when the cheeks are drawn into the points. Sometimes these horses will run backwards or grab the bit with the cheek teeth and run off. Rear ramps on the cheek teeth will cause the horse to go with the mouth open or with the nose high like a hog hollowing the back. Bit seats on these first cheek teeth aid in resolving many of these problems. They also aid in correct tongue placement allowing for more air flow in the horse. Oxygen is life, more oxygen, better performance. Teeth can also influence air flow in other ways such as dental cysts in the nasal passage partially closing down the airway due to forces on the turbinate’s and concha’s partially closing the meatuses or openings of the airways within the nasal passages.
You cannot put one mandible in the whole world on another horse and make it work. Each horse is unique and must be treated as an individual when equilibrating the teeth. It is also important to dress the teeth for the activity involved and equipment being used.
I look forward to your questions and discussion.
Dale Jeffrey, EGTI Principal
Equine Gnathological Training Institute, Inc., www.horsedentistry.info
Dale has been teaching equine gnathology, (dentistry) for over 40 years. He is well traveled and titled. He began practicing the trade as a teenager and is now 80 years of age. Dale and his brother Lloyd own World Wide Equine, Inc., an equine dental instrument company in Glenns Ferry, Idaho manufacturing over 400 various equine dental instruments shipping to over 11000 customers in over 60 countries. They also have an equine dental museum in the factory featuring many old equine dental instruments. Dale and Bert Lambert also own Equine Gnathological Training Institute, Inc. in Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Bert has been working with Dale for over 20 years and is a Master of the trade teaching people from around the world. They have over 400 skulls in their collection and have studied equine anatomy together for many years. Dale has also written seven books on equine dentistry, gnathology, sold round the world. His latest books are Oral Health in Equidae and Advanced Equine Dental Guide. If traveling through Southern Idaho on I – 84 please be sure to visit their museum and factory in downtown Glenns Ferry.