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Straight from the horse’s mouth

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WORLD Radio - Straight from the horse’s mouth

A day in the life of an equine dentist’s office


Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Thursday, November 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Paul Butler.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: An unusual dental appointment.

You know the old saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” Well, today, we have a story about a man who spends his days looking in the mouths of other people’s horses.

BUTLER: WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett has the story—straight from the horse’s mouth—in our occasional series called What Do People Do All Day

MORGAN: Wednesdays are always a crazy busy day here. [Horse whinnies] This is the front exam room. And then to the right of me now this is the new CT area…

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: That’s Cody Morgan at the Brazos Valley Equine Hospital, in Navasota, Texas. The hospital is a barn. A really big barn with ultrasound machines, an operating room, a pharmacy…

MORGAN: Kind of like a general hospital.

Morgan serves as the hospital’s licensed equine dental provider. A horse dentist.

SOUND: [WHINNY AND FILING HORSE HOOVES]

At the far end of the barn, morning sunlight pours through an open bay door and silhouettes horses waiting to see the farrier. Two of them are also Morgan’s patients, Tex and Apple Jack.

MORGAN: So as soon as they get done getting trimmed, then they'll bring them over here and we'll take a look at them…

In the hospital library, there’s a collection of equine skeletons used for tutorials. Morgan grabs a skull off the shelf.

MORGAN: So, you have the horse's teeth and every horse can have up to 44 teeth…

They’re born without any.

MORGAN: And so, these teeth, when they start erupting, and they're growing, they're always growing.

That can be a problem.

MORGAN: But what happens is the mandible is a little bit narrower than the maxilla, which is the upper jaw.

Chewing keeps parts of the teeth ground down. But Morgan points to the teeth where the jaw lines don’t meet.

MORGAN: So, these continue to grow and they’ll get extremely sharp points. And, so, what these sharp points will do will start causing really bad cheek ulcers.

And while horses can’t say they have a toothache, they do give hints.

MORGAN: The biggest thing is dropping feed. That's a huge issue. Quitting is basically taking grass or hay and just balls up or wads up and falls out, because he has no teeth in the back to actually chew and grind that down to where he needs…

For rodeo horses, their riders can tell when there’s a problem.

MORGAN: So, they can call me and say, “Hey, this horse is really wanting to fight me going to the right.” And so, I know they're going into the right. I need to look on the left-hand side to see if there's something on that side for this causing some issues.

Preventing and treating those problems is part of Morgan’s job.

SOUND: [Horse clopping off a trailer, distant whinny]

Apple Jack is finished with the farrier, so, with freshly manicured hooves and a mild sedative, he’s now ready for his dental exam. His drooping chin rests inside a halter that is raised so Morgan, seated on a short stool, can peer up into his mouth.

A metal device called a speculum holds Apple Jack’s jaw open.

MORGAN: So, we’ll rinse his mouth out real quick… [Water rinse]

Morgan turns on his halogen head lamp and looks inside the gaping maw as Apple Jack tries dislodging the speculum with his 14-inch tongue.

MORGAN: So, As you can see throughout the mouth, starting to get a few little points, a few little cheek ulcers. And he's got a small little wave on the bottom…

A wave is uneven growth between the lower and upper teeth. Morgan will grind smooth the wave and sharp points.

MORGAN: Alright. Here we go… [SOUND OF GRINDER]

Morgan grinds the teeth on the lower left jaw, then releases the speculum to rest Apple Jack’s jaw before repeating the process throughout the mouth.

Apple Jack gets a clean bill of health.

Without basic, routine dental care, horses can develop a host of problems ranging from insufficient diet to poor performance in the rodeo arena.

MORGAN: So, we've had fractured teeth, like a slab fracture where it'll break up and slab off, it'll be completely broken in half. We've seen sticks stuck in between teeth up into the palate, major cuts along the tongue…

For the serious treatments, Morgan sees the horses at the hospital in case further care is needed. But, today, he has just one more appointment at the hospital before making his local rounds.

MORGAN: Yeah, that's basically what I do every day, just a yearly routine maintenance calls. It's a good feeling, able to help actually help two competitors at one time. You're helping the horse and the rider.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Navasota, Texas.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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