New endoscope improves efficiency of equine veterinary dental care and education

Published: April 20, 2018
Updated: May 04, 2018
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A newly acquired equine dental endoscope by Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine is improving the examination and treatment of dental abnormalities in horses while also enhancing the education and skills needed by veterinary medical students.

“We see a fair number of horses who are referred to the J.T. Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital with dental pathologies,” said Dr. Fred Caldwell, an associate professor of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery. “This new dental endoscope enables a more thorough examination of the horse’s oral cavity by placing a small camera and light source directly into the horse’s mouth. It is a fantastic instrument and it can pick up subtle abnormalities that are more difficult to see by manual examination methods.”

Horses have long, narrow oral cavities, and that, coupled with having to be partially sedated beforehand, makes conducting a thorough equine dental examination or procedure relatively challenging for the veterinarian.

Traditional equine dental examinations involve the use of a bright lamp mounted on the veterinarian’s head and a large mirror, Dr. Caldwell explains. The process is much like a dentist conducting a human dental examination, only a horse has to be partially sedated and its mouth held open by a large instrument called a dental speculum.

“A detailed oral examination is an essential part of the investigation of any suspected dental disease in the horse,” Dr. Caldwell said. “The range of opening of the equine mouth is extremely limited even when the horse is sedated, and severely limits the visualization of the occlusal surfaces of the teeth and other soft tissue structures of the oral cavity. This can be aided by the use of dental mirrors, but better visualization is achieved by using an endoscope adapted for the equine mouth.”

Unlike the flexible equipment used for internal endoscopy examinations such as the interior of the stomach and esophagus, the dental scope is a rigid shaft instrument much like a laparoscope. It is better adapted for the horse’s mouth and, coupled to a halogen light and a chip camera, enables detailed visualization of the oral cavity and teeth and better detection of dental as well as other problems or potential problems in the horse’s mouth.

While this is not new technology, it is not widely used among veterinary practices, according to Dr. Caldwell.

“It really is a specialty piece of equipment,” Dr. Caldwell said. “It is used mainly by equine dental specialists, but because we now have it in our program, it significantly enhances our service capabilities to our clients while also improving the educational experiences of our veterinary students.”

The equipment is Bluetooth equipped, can produce still or video photography and it enables real-time viewing of the patient’s examination via a video monitor or even a smart phone.

“The client or the students can see by way of the video monitor exactly what the examining veterinarian is seeing at the same time he or she is conducting the examination,” Dr. Caldwell said. “The photography and video capabilities also enhance the development of educational presentations and instructional programs.”

Dr. Caldwell added that the dental endoscope seems to be better tolerated by the horse in most cases than the manual traditional examination techniques, allowing a more rapid completion of the examination or procedure.

The equipment was purchased with funds secured through a technology teaching grant. Veterinary students have access to its use as a regular part of their education and training. It is an example of Auburn faculty delivering life-changing care and treatment while providing students an extraordinary, hands-on educational experience.

The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.