While power tools are the standard of care for humans and this makes us very comfortable with them, they are not appropriate for horses. Humans have a different jaw motion, do not have teeth that erupt over their lifetime, can be spoken to and sit in a chair under sedation with very good access and visibility. Humans are having rotten areas debrided (drilled out) and filled, horses are having what should be angled, flat grinding panels maintained. While people feel that power tools are a sign of an expensive, cutting-edge dentist, they are not only not necessary, but highly detrimental in anything but anesthetized, periodontal work done in a hospital.
The hand tools used by many dentists today would be recognizable to dentists 100 years ago. There have been modifications to the cutting blades using materials that provide a smoother, faster cut, as well as modifications to the handles to allow for more accurate angles and less stress on the horse’s jaw and the dentist’s wrist and hands. That being said, many Amish today use the same tools that have been passed down to them in the family for generations, replacing or sharpening the cutting surfaces.
A few reasons to avoid the use of power tools in the horse’s mouth:
- The power tools designed for equine use are made with motors that operate at medium to high rpm’s. This allows the drill head to heat up enough to cause the teeth to become damaged; the teeth essentially fossilizing and becoming brittle. There is also a far greater chance of nerve damage due to over-heating.
- Power tools have a starting motion that causes them to slide sideways when they first encounter hard tooth, in a mouth as long as a horse’s this can cause great inaccuracy and lead to “nicks” which cause painful bleeding.
- Power tools use a revolving head. While useful in humans to drill small holes in teeth, in equine dentistry, we are trying to achieve a flat plane with moderately sharp cutting edges to allow the horse to effectively cut and grind food. The nature of the head of a power tool leaves a rounded hose-like tooth that has relatively small pressure areas and next to no cutting and grinding surface. This leads to rapid imbalance, overgrowth and sharp hooks.
- Power tools cut very rapidly and take quite a bit of tooth off at a time. This leads to over-eruption of new tooth. The horse is only born with a certain amount of tooth to use over its lifetime, over-eruption means tooth loss resulting in very high-care needs many years sooner, prematurely aging the horse.