Clarion County man travels throughout area making sure horses have healthy teeth
Horses' mouths are a lot like human ones.
“You notice old people may have bad breath. It's the same with horses,” said Charlie Wyant, an equine dentist who recently visited Hodil Farm in Hampton.
Like older people, older horses can develop gaps between their teeth and gums, where food can collect and decay, which sparks that unpleasant odor.
Unlike human teeth, however, horse teeth never stop growing.
“As horses chew, their teeth constantly wear,” Wyant said. “As the teeth wear, they develop a sharp edge.”
Using a bucket full of rasp-like, hand “floats” — stick-like tools with abrasive, flat surfaces — Wyant works by feel with gloved hands to eliminate those sharp edges on horses' teeth.
That allows the animal to better chew and digest its food and ultimately live a long, healthy life.
“The older they (horses) get, the more issues we face,” Wyant said. “Obviously, even in people, if you do better maintenance early on, it's going to help out later on in life, and it's the same with horses.”
Wyant, 38, of Clarion County, routinely travels more than 800 miles per week to examine horses' teeth in four states: Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida. He drives a used 2006 Saturn Vue with 129,000 miles on its odometer. He treats about 40 to 50 horses a week.
“I've been doing this for 18 years,” he said. “I never know what time I'm getting home.”
Wyant is a 1995 graduate of the World Wide Equine Gnathological Training Institute in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, formerly located in Lincoln, Neb.
“I went to school when I was 19. Straight out of high school into dentistry, pretty much,” Wyant said.
“Then I did a six-month apprenticeship and have been learning ever since.”
Two years ago, Wyant began using power tools to correct some dental issues — after a horse's veterinarian administers intravenous sedation.
“One of the key things in my business is for the equine dentist to work hand in hand with the veterinarian — to look out for the welfare of the horse,” Wyant said.
Wyant works with a number of local large animal-veterinarians, including Brad Neubert of Indiana Township and Jane Kennedy of Butler County.
“He is a tremendous asset to my practice. If I was to do dentistry, it would take all my time,” said the British-trained Kennedy of Harmony Equine Veterinary Services in Summit Township, Butler County.
“He does an excellent job. He's very thorough,” Kennedy said about Wyant.
To prevent possibly spreading infections, Wyant soaks his dental tools in a chlorhexidine solution and squirts the antiseptic in every “patient's” mouth following a procedure.
What led Wyant to become an equine dentist?
“A young horse that I had, that we had been riding — and was doing great — all of the sudden developed major issues ... where it was very uncomfortable with a bit (in its mouth),” said Wyant, whose wife trains horses and competes in barrel racing.
“I actually had someone come out, and they extracted some baby teeth and floated the horse's teeth and basically spent 15 minutes working on the horse, and it made a world of difference,” Wyant said.
“I thought that was pretty powerful.”
Wyant described equine dentistry as a very physical job.
“It's a good living,” he said. “I like what I do.”
A self-described “country” guy, the 6-foot-3-inch Wyant and his wife live on 85-acre Fiddler Run Farm in Porter Township, Clarion County.
They have two children, Bailey, 10, and Tucker, 5, and keep more than a dozen horses on their farm.
“My wife and I now own it. My grandparents originally bought it in the 1950s,” Wyant said.
“We make our own hay. We live the farm life.”
Wyant recommends that horses, like humans, get a dental checkup every six months to one year.
Neglecting to “float” a horse's teeth can lead to difficulty with eating, for example, and mouth sores created by the sharp edges of teeth rubbing again the soft tissues of a horse's mouth.
“If they can't masticate (grind) their food into fine enough pieces, it can increase the chance of impactions that lead to colic,” Wyant said.
A horse's unwillingness to halt when ridden also might stem from bad teeth, along with a tendency for the animal to stick out its nose while wearing a bridle, according to Wyant.
“They're trying to get as comfortable as they can, but there's a tooth issue, and they've got to hold their head a certain way to get the most comfortable,” Wyant said.
Discharge from a horse's mouth or nose also can betray bad teeth. Genetics, too, can set the stage for mouth troubles.
In addition to “floating” or smoothing horses' teeth, equine dentists such as Wyant occasionally pull out their “patients'” teeth.
“We do extractions, bite realignments,” said Wyant, who occasionally gets hurt on the job.
“Not seriously, fortunately,” he said. “I've lost two thumbnails, getting bit ... I have been kicked on a quite a few occasions, but I apparently bounce pretty good.”
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.