Q: My mare will allow the dentist to work on her teeth, even with power tools, but she looks absolutely terrified. Would it be kinder to sedate her for the procedures?
A: Most horses will experience some anxiety when it comes to having their teeth treated, but all routine treatment, done properly, should be relatively painless for the horse. Mild anxiety, therefore, is something that most dentists are used to dealing with and tend not to worry too much about.
However, if a horse is terrified most dentists will consider calling a vet to sedate the horse. There are two main reasons for this:
- a terrified horse is a danger to both themselves and the dentist;
- a horse that is terrified, but tolerant, the first time around is likely to demonstrate more extreme behaviour the second time around, and as dentistry is a routine occurrence for horses this can be setting a situation up for disaster.
The reason to avoid sedating all horses for dentistry is that sedation in itself is not entirely safe. Therefore, if a horse can ‘cope’ with just mild anxiety during the dentistry procedure then this is the safest option.
In the long run, a dentist that will take the time to make the process as bearable for your horse as possible is worth his weight in gold. Giving your horse breaks during their dental treatment, where the gag is closed to give the jaw some relief and allow the horse to settle again can really prove invaluable in this process.