Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but, over here in Switzerland, the importance of equine dentistry tends to be grossly underestimated. Proper equine dentists are few and far between, and the ones worth their somewhat stiff fees are almost impossible to get hold of unless you have “contacts”.
Of course, if you’re lucky, your horse can go through life with the dental bare necessities. A good vet can generally take care of tooth basics, and chances are you won’t need the services of a fully fledged equine dentist, because your horse won’t develop major problems.
Crossing my fingers hasn’t been enough to keep Kwintus’ pearly whites (!) in mint condition. The day before I took my daughter to university in the UK, we found out that our poor horse needs dental surgery. Pretty major dental surgery as it turns out.
I’ve known Kwintus had a potential major dental problem for about two years now, because the last time the “super dentist” came to visit him he discovered Kwint had a broken tooth very far behind, high up on the left hand side. Back then, the dentist told me there was no point worrying about it too much because it wasn’t infected, and that it was perfectly possible for it to remain that way forever. “But,” he said, “if one day you notice nasal discharge, or that the horse develops dodgy breath, it’s probably because the tooth has suffered further damage and become infected.”
My stomach took a nosedive into the worry zone. “What if that happens?” I wanted to know.
The dentist pulled a face. “The tooth will have to come out, entailing a complicated operation,” he replied. “The tooth is so far back and so badly broken they’ll have to put your horse under full anesthesia, and extract the tooth by breaking through the outside of his jaw. All I can say is that I hope it doesn’t happen. Good luck.”
Well, guess what happened?
Kwintus had suddenly become unhappy with his mouth about a week before I was scheduled to go to England with my daughter. He started drawing circles on the walls of his stable with his front teeth. Steph had never seen anything like it, and neither had I. But there was no nasal discharge and his breath didn’t seem particularly smelly, although maybe I was gradually getting used to a slight stinky whiff. Anyway, we tried over and over to get hold of the “super dentist” who’d treated him two years ago at my previous stables. No answer. No returned calls. Finally, I asked my trainer, Marie-Valentine, whether she knew someone else who might be able to help. Instead, she dialed the “super dentist”’s number, left him a message, and hey presto, ten minutes later she was talking to him. Did I mention contacts help?!
Of course, super dentists have super busy schedules, and it took another four days for the dentist to come and see Kwint, at which point his stable walls were becoming reminiscent of the Lascaux caves in the south of France. The poor horse didn’t know what to do with his mouth anymore. But the dentist arrived with his two Swiss German assistants, got Kwint to open wide, moved in close and nearly keeled over. “Stinken”, he said, briskly shaking his wrist. I didn’t need an English translation.
As it turned out, it wasn’t the broken tooth that was making Kwint draw circles on the walls. His front teeth had just become too long and uncomfortable and needed filing down. But the broken tooth right at the back was a mess; there was gunk all around it, as well as clumps of semi-chewed food that had become lodged in the cavities. Kwint’s tongue was also irritated, with little white spots all over it. When they washed out his mouth with warm water the smell was pretty tenacious.
“It’s not good,” said the dentist, turning to me and shaking his head. “This tooth needs to come out. We’re looking at an operation.”
My poor daughter burst into tears. I held her tight, told her it would be okay, that we’d do what it takes to fix the problem.
“The good news is,” he continued, “that in the past two years there have been major improvements in this particular operation.” He told us there was a dental surgeon in Munich who could extract the tooth without putting the horse out completely, using a far less invasive technique, and who could perform the operation in any good equine clinic in Switzerland. First, however, we’d need to do x-rays to determine the extent of the damage.
To cut a long story short, Stephanie was kind enough to take Kwintus to an equine clinic a week later, while I was settling my daughter into her new life in England. The x-rays revealed that the tooth needs to come out as soon as possible; if it’s not removed it could infect Kwint’s sinuses. Steph phoned the “super dentist” on the way back from the clinic, but he hasn’t got back to her yet. I returned from England on Friday evening and have contacted him too, asking for further details on how to proceed, as well as for a financial inkling of where this dental debacle might be headed. No news so far. My trainer, Marie-Valentine, is currently in Germany, sourcing horses for a client. She gets back tomorrow evening, so hopefully might be able to speak to the dentist on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Kwintus doesn’t seem bothered by his broken tooth, and as the dentist told me to work him as usual, that’s what I’m doing. Of course, as you can imagine, I’m being particularly careful with his mouth.
The thing is, apart from worrying about whether Kwint might be in more pain that he’s letting on, I’m desperate to know what happens next. When will we be able to have Kwintus operated on? What will the recovery time be? And…how much might something like this cost? I get chills just thinking about it.
Have you been through a similar experience, or heard of this sort of problem? I'd be grateful for some feedback.