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Straight from the horse's mouth: How equine dentistry can make people shake their heads

FARGO - Laurelyn Keener has a rather unusual job-she's a veterinarian specializing in equine dentistry."Most people are pretty fascinated and want to hear more about what I do and then they just kind of shake their heads and laugh," she said.She ...

Laurelyn Keener owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. She spends much of her time traveling between North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse’s mouths and teeth. Trevor Peterson/The Forum
Laurelyn Keener owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. She spends much of her time traveling between North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse’s mouths and teeth. Trevor Peterson/The Forum

FARGO - Laurelyn Keener has a rather unusual job-she's a veterinarian specializing in equine dentistry. "Most people are pretty fascinated and want to hear more about what I do and then they just kind of shake their heads and laugh," she said. She spends much of her time traveling in North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse's mouths and teeth. "The more I learned about teeth, the more fascinated I was by how dynamic their mouth is and how important good dental health is for all species, definitely for all horses," said Keener, who owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. Keener says all horses, especially young horses, need their teeth checked annually. "Young horses under the age of 5, their teeth are sharper, and as they age they don't develop quite as quickly," she said. "You might not have to do as much grinding every year in an older horse, but we want to make sure they don't have any periodontal disease, broken teeth or any other problems that would make them less efficient in chewing their feed." She also takes care of misaligned teeth. "The teeth should not hang down like little saber teeth in the front," she said. "They should be fairly level." Emma Nelson of Kathryn brought her horses to see Keener when the veterinarian recently visited the North Dakota State University Equine Center in Fargo. She did it for "peace of mind," she said, and had no idea her horses had any issues. "The horses are hopefully going to thank me for it," Nelson said. Before lightly sedating the animals to help them through the procedure, Keener listens to their heart, lungs and gut to make sure everything sounds like it should.

Laurelyn Keener owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. She spends much of her time traveling between North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse’s mouths and teeth. Trevor Peterson/The Forum
Laurelyn Keener owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. She spends much of her time traveling between North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse’s mouths and teeth. Trevor Peterson/The Forum

"I think it's like being very drunk or like having laughing gas," she said of the sedation. "They're aware and they can learn, you can teach them to be good or bad clients to a certain extent based on how you handle them. But it does have some amnesia properties as well. It doesn't make them trailer shy." Sometimes the animals are hesitant at first, but Keener and the sedation help calm them. "Some of them really figure out we're trying to help them," she said. "Maybe they're scared or they're really fighting the work at first, and we just kind of work with them and try to help settle them and suddenly a light goes off and they figure out, 'Hey, this is feeling better.' Something that's hurt for a while feels better and they kind of take this big breath and they step forward and just totally relax into it." About a year and a half ago, Keener worked on a mini donkey that had been in pain for a while. "He was just a star for me to work on him," she said. "I think he figured out I was helping him. He reached over and kind of grabbed my glove so I pulled it down. He started licking my hand, about broke my heart. He just kind of said, 'Thank you, thanks for helping.' " There are 12 veterinarians worldwide who are board-certified in equine dentistry, said Keener, who is not board-certified. But it is a growing field and there are programs underway to encourage more veterinarians to specialize.

Laurelyn Keener owns North Wind Equine Veterinary Dentistry in Duluth, Minn. She spends much of her time traveling between North Dakota, Minnesota and the western edge of Wisconsin checking on horse’s mouths and teeth. Trevor Peterson/The Forum
Laurelyn Keener, a veterinarian who specializes in equine dentistry, says all horses, especially young horses, need their teeth checked annually. Trevor Peterson/The Forum

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