Veterinary Care: A Visit from the Equine Dentist

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

At the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex, we often rely on outside medical specialists to help our veterinary team provide the best care to the animals at the Detroit Zoo. We have regular visits from veterinary ophthalmologists, veterinary and human cardiologists, veterinary surgeons and dentists.

This week, we had a visit from Dr. Tom Johnson, an equine dentist who delivers excellent dental care to horse patients throughout Lower Michigan and beyond. He has been invited to lecture and share his knowledge all over the world, and has developed special tools to help make his work more effective and precise. Dr. Johnson and I first met while we were classmates at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and we have stayed in touch ever since. I first asked for his assistance in 1998 when our geriatric Shetland pony, Snowflake, started losing weight. During her exam, we noticed that she had developed an abscessed tooth. After we removed the tooth and floated – that is, filed down the sharp edges on – her remaining teeth, she gained weight and lived for many more years. We realized during this exam that Dr. Johnson had the expertise and tools to provide better dental care than we are able to provide. Ever since then, we’ve called on Dr. Johnson to examine our rescued thoroughbred race horses and miniature donkeys. He has also helped us address dental issues in Przewalski’s horses and guanacos.

Dr. Johnson has a specially designed trailer that he brings on grounds when he examines our domestic horses. Each patient is given a sedative, and then walked into the trailer. Once inside the trailer, Dr. Johnson has access to the tools he needs to complete an exam, including a head-mounted light source and dental scalers. This year, we are pleased that horses Trio and Buster had no issues of concern and required only routine trimming and cleaning.

Miniature donkeys are known to have dental problems, so we were pleased that Giovanni also looked very good, though Knick-Knack had a molar that had broken in half, allowing food to collect at the center. Dr. Johnson worked for over an hour to carefully loosen the tooth, and was able to successfully remove it.

Before today, there were no signs that Knick-Knack had a dental problem. She was eating all of her food and showing no signs of discomfort. Left untreated, her tooth may have become abscessed, which would have been painful for her. We are very glad to have caught this problem early – we know that providing timely medical care improves animals’ health and welfare.

– Ann Duncan

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