What’s Wrong With This Picture?

badtoothWell, for starters, it just looks bad. Secondly, there is a normal tooth misplaced, a terribly diseased tooth hanging on for dear life and another gone altogether. If pictures could smell, this one would. The black tooth smelled as bad as it looked.

This is a picture of the incisors of a 2-year-old colt I was presented to float the teeth on a while back. Normally, a 2-year-old has six incisors on the top and bottom, alike. If you look at the lower jaw, you see what normal looks like – two central incisors, two intermediate incisors, and two corner incisors. At that age, the teeth are nice and white with a smooth surface from being in wear for a couple of years. This colt’s upper incisors are not so normal. His upper corner and intermediate incisors are there, but it gets questionable who’s who after that. The large, white tooth at an angle is a central incisor, the blackish tooth is what’s left of the intermediate, and the one on his upper left is the corner. Somewhere in the dirt around his pen, the other central incisor is lying, waiting to be found by a little boy who can tell his friends he found a dinosaur tooth.   

Oddly enough, this horse had no outward symptoms of any problems. He was fat and slick. My sinus infection at the time prevented me from getting the full effect of the odor, but no one riding the colt complained about it.  The point here is that on young horses with relatively soft teeth, they can sustain considerable damage, and no one is the wiser until you go looking.

Even putting the bit in his mouth wasn’t an issue. Now, maybe he wasn’t ridden for a day or two after it initially happened – either way the guy who was riding him doesn’t miss much, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.  As ugly as that looks, this colt should be back to normal in a year or so. His deciduous, or “baby” teeth will come out as he continues to grow, and be replaced with permanent ones. The two central incisors are replaced with permanents at about 2.5 years, the intermediates at about 3.5 years, and the corners at about 4.5 years. 

So, since the crooked, but “healthy,” central incisor was well seated in the bone, I left it alone. The hideous black tooth was removed in pieces, and the empty socket cleaned to allow for quick healing. Sure, he wasn’t going to be smiling for his school pictures anytime soon, but he can eat, drink, and ride around just fine. As the permanent teeth come in to replace the good, the bad, and the ugly, he will have a nice even row of incisors like nothing ever happened. Sometimes, being a good veterinarian means just staying out of Mother Nature’s way.

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Dr. Justin High is a veterinarian and partner in Reata Equine Hospital in Weatherford, Texas. He graduated vet school from Texas A&M University and completed an internship at The Littleton Equine Medical Center in Denver, Colo. High’s years of practice focuses on the Western performances horse. Send any comments or questions to [email protected].