Why Do I Bother?

Why do I bother attending meetings if what they say I disagree with? Why be part of a group that is subsidized by feed companies (whose names are printed on the credentials lanyard) when my belief is that grain is hurting our horses? But right now I’m heading to San Antonio, Texas for this year’s American Association of Equine Practitioners meeting. I need the continuing education credits to remain licensed which is the only reason I bother. Otherwise, it often is a colossal waste of my time. I have more horses to float and blogs to write and websites to update.

The good news is that my wife will be joining me this year and we are celebrating Thanksgiving together along the River Walk and The Alamo. Then I go back to NY for more work.

I am fascinated though that the keynote speaker is a veterinarian from Scotland who has done more research on horse teeth than anyone along with publishing countless articles and co-authoring several books on equine dentistry. He is also the director of surgery at the vet school in Edinburgh. His name is Paddy Dixon and I have a story to tell.

Discarded horseshoes outside a barn in Bedford Hills, NY.

15 Years Ago

Back in 2002, I traveled to Glasgow for the equivalent equine vet meeting (the BEVA) because they were focusing on equine dentistry. Non-veterinary equine dentists were being certified and registered by the UK allowing them to perform dentistry on horses legally. These dentists were invited to this meeting and were treated as equals. Advancement was being made in this sector of veterinary medicine and I wanted to go find out on my own what they were doing. I was 1 of only 6 Americans attending.

The director of the program that year was a lovely lady who thought it would be a great idea if Dr. Dixon and I could have a private lunch together and she arranged it. On the second day of the meeting, we each were given a small box lunch and sat alone at a small round table in a corner of a conference hall. He was excited (I think) to have an opportunity to talk with someone from the US practicing exclusively dentistry and I was excited to be sitting with such a well-respected man in the field.

One of the first questions Dr. Dixon asked me was about my thoughts on incisor reductions. This is the procedure where a dentist files the occlusal surface of the front nipper teeth to create an even length between the gum line and the chewing surface in all of the incisors. Some horses wear an altered angle from straight and even including a “smile,” a “frown” or a “slant.” The thought is that these “not normal” wear patterns are affecting the movement of the jaw as well as leading to an altered temporomandibular joint function and discomfort.

My immediate answer was simply that I did not believe in this reduction and furthermore I thought it was unethical in that we could possibly be altering the appearance and therefore the age of the horse. Since then I have determined that you cannot accurately judge the age of the horse by their teeth. But Dr. Dixon passed over the ethics part and asked me why I didn’t perform incisor reductions. My reply in a way startled him.

My reason behind not filing the incisors is simply that their appearance is secondary to something going on with the chewing motion and the tongue movement of the horse. The altered jaw and tongue movement is almost always brought on by pain from the sharp tooth edges which prevent normal movement. I suggested that if the sharp points on the cheek teeth were completely removed and the pain eliminated that 2 things would happen. If the horse was young enough, the incisors would wear evenly with routine removal of the sharp points. If the horse was older and the abnormal wear pattern was already established, then the horse over time would self-correct. In either case, the horse would become more comfortable.

Dr. Dixon replied with this. “Here in the United Kingdom, we are rapidly moving away from incisor reductions.” He further went on to describe that through the use of the electron microscope they determined that the enamel of the incisors was softer than the enamel of the cheek teeth. His conclusion agreed with my observation that the abnormal incisor wear was secondary to something happening with the movement of the mouth and not a primary problem.

Needless to say, I was very happy with this as it confirmed what I had been seeing after over 15 years of experience at that point.

Autumn pumpkins for sale at a roadside stand in Maryland.

Back to top


Remember, you can also start a discussion in the forums for a more in-depth experience!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    1. Thank you Nancy. We did and we gave thanks to all the wonderful people in the practice and to the horses that inspire us to keep going.

  1. I can’t imagine that Dr. Dixon won’t remember you. You are the most interesting and memorable person I know!

    On another note, I want to comment on the “no grain” feeding. Since I took my minis off grain last year there has been a significant change in their behavior. They are definitely calmer and more relaxed, especially during grooming. Although they are fed more hay, they have lost weight, which is definitely a plus because they seem to get fat on air alone. They are still fresh little boys, but now much easier to deal with.

    Thanks again for all you do for horses and their humans. My boys and I look forward to seeing you next year.

    Have fun in Texas!

    1. Thanks for this Stephanie. Horses going off grain will lose FAT which we interpret as lost weight. In reality the fat is a sign of the inflammation in the gut and the horse’s inability to use the glucose he is eating. The horse (and humans) end up storing the glucose in new fat cells. Unbelievably, both horses and humans are really starving in a carbohydrate dependent diet as they continue to gain fat. Removing these carbs allows the insulin to work and the glucose to be used by the cells. No longer hungry and their guts inflamed, the horses calm down.

      Have a great winter and see you next year!

  2. Mellow Yellow is now 14 years and, thanks to your wonderful attention, I expect to continue our partnership for many more years. Your blogs have provided much information, so valuable because Mel was a dental rescue. Information on TMJ would be very welcome too.

    1. Thank you Cindy.

      I have a lot to say about TM joints in horses, but it might not be what the others are saying. Lots of good research and retrospective studies have been done. Bottom line, TMJ primary disease has not been recorded in horses.

      Hmmmm… not what a lot of people say. In fact a friend (vet) of mine after buying his nuclear scintigraphy machine scanned the TM joints of every horse that came in for a bone scan. The TM joints of every horse lit up like a Christmas tree and all had no problems in these joints. Remember they chew on average 25,000 times a day so this joint is VERY EFFECTIVE in NOT becoming inflamed or diseased. More on TheHorsesAdvocate.com site.

    1. Thanks Judy and Happy TG to you too!! No tacos but some Texas BBQ yesterday. Today was peanuts in the plane then work in Long Island only to figure that EVERY restaurant and store was closed. So a microwave meal from 7-11 was going to be my TG meal until I found a Greek restaurant open. LOL, I LOVE what I do…. and I am SO THANKFUL for the opportunity and for you and my clients who know the difference and choose us for their horse’s dental care.

  3. How exciting Doc T. Sure hope you get to visit with Dr. Dixon and catch up at the more intimate level of your lunch back 15 years ago. Can’t wait to hear the update on equine dentistry.

    BTW, great horseshoe, pumpkin-esque photo.