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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: December 9, 2020

Tales of Teeth

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

A few weeks ago Mike noticed our old horse "Betty" had a lump on her face, just above the corner of her mouth. As soon as he told me I went out and sure enough, a very noticeable bump, about the size of a golf ball cut in half. For those of you who grew up wishing you could have a horse, you soon learn when you have one (unless someone else takes total care of it for you,) that you have to get over some squeamishness. Horse vets are never convenient, and you can hardly load the horse into your car and go to the clinic like I do with our cats and dogs. So before calling the equine vet, you try and rule out the "silly logical things" yourself.

I was very embarrassed years ago when I called the vet to our house in Oklahoma because I noticed our sweet horse "Magic" was struggling to eat. I couldn't really see anything wrong by pulling his lips away from his teeth but I wasn't comfortable prying his mouth open. Since it was not an emergency it took a couple of days for Dr. Andy to arrive. When he did, he strode to the barn, expertly pried open Magic's mouth, took one look inside and pulled out a stick that had bridged across the roof of the horse's mouth. The poor horse had been suffering a few days, and Dr. Andy set it right in 30 seconds, with no tools or medications required. Lesson learned for me. This is something I could have seen had I only looked, and thus cut short our poor horse's discomfort.

So I pried open Betty's mouth and stuck my whole hand up in the corner of her upper jaw where the lump was, being very careful not to get any part of my hand between her jaws. Horses have big teeth and they are very strong, and Betty found my actions quite rude. So I only tarried long enough to know there was no foreign body in there, and that the lump didn't seem to be causing her extreme pain when I touched it.

I called the vet and was happy to see her arrive a few days later. She put on a headlight, pried open Betty's mouth and felt all along her upper jaw, bending forward to be able to see up that long muzzle. Betty had somehow "slab" fractured a tooth, and the sharp edges were cutting her skin up when she chewed. At this point Betty's cooperation was exhausted, (in fact, she'd already exceeded my expectations by quite a bit) so an injectable sedative made her more relaxed while not putting her so far under she would fall. A fall can result in a broken leg and euthanization for a horse, so the medication must be carefully administered by horse weight to allow for vet AND horse injury-free procedures.

Betty quit caring what we were doing in less than a minute, and a metal "gag" that slips into the horse's mouth and then ratchets wide on both sides to open the jaws to maximum allows the vet room to work and better visibility. Next, I expected a bucket of water with a bunch of files and pliers in it to appear. That's how tooth work used to be done on horses. But now, she procured what looked like a battery-operated drill, attached a foot-long extension on it and fitted that with an abrasive head.

Slipping that up to the tooth she set to work filing down the broken area and used her other hand to pull Betty's tongue out of her way. While she couldn't be sure without x-rays (another thing pretty hard to do on a horse's mouth, and impossible while doing a farm call) she decided the roots of the tooth were sound and not infected. So we decided to leave the tooth, and monitor it.

While she was at it and Betty was in la-la land, the vet addressed several "hooks," sharp edges overgrown horse teeth get which can cause pain during eating or wearing a bit. This is called "floating" horse teeth. The dental work took about 20 minutes. I was marveling, because I used to be filled with pity watching horse vets in Oklahoma sweat and strain with manually operated files to do this kind of work. It was not uncommon for it to take nearly an hour, hard on both horse and vet. AND owner, in my case. One of my better horse vets in Oklahoma was a woman who probably weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. Watching her float horse teeth with files was awe-inspiring.

This is illustrative, though, of how hard the job of large animal veterinarians can be. Big, powerful and potentially dangerous animals are not normally predisposed to welcome painful, invasive procedures. The work is sometimes conducted outdoors, in cold, dirty, dark or otherwise nasty conditions and requires a pretty high level of physical finesses. Makes me truly admire "old time" vets who had to do these things without having the good drugs available now for tranquilizing the patients, or labor-saving devices like powered dental tools.

By the next morning Betty was happily munching hay, the lump was reduced by half and by the third day it was completely gone. You can never be sure while awaiting the vet's visit that such lumps aren't tumors, so you can imagine my relief. And I am sure Betty was relieved, too.

I thought of this a few weeks later during deer season. Our son shot a really nice big buck on our land, and took the head home to prepare for a "European mount," which is the bare skull of the deer and antlers mounted on a plaque for display.

He reported the deer had a fractured tooth in its upper jaw, and an obvious infection and abscess above the tooth. There is no doubt at all this would have been painful, just like it is when horses and humans get broken teeth and infections. I suppose the tooth would have eventually died, and hopefully the infection clear up, because there is no one to call the vet for the wild ones.

Thanksgiving is over, but I am still finding things to be grateful for, and right now it is Dr. Becky and the rest of the large animal vets.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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