- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NEW WINDSOR, Md. — They say never look a gift horse in the mouth, but Joel Nupp not only looks in their mouths, he sticks his arm in up to his elbow, reaching all the way to the back molars to make sure they’re correctly angled.

Although his full-time job is with the U.S. Postal Service in Hunt Valley, Md., equine dentistry has become a second career.

A few days each week, after leaving the post office, Mr. Nupp drives to farms in Carroll, Frederick, Baltimore and Harford counties to inspect and repair horses’ teeth.

Mr. Nupp, who operates Friendship Equine Dental Services from his farm in New Windsor, learned the trade two years ago at the American School of Equine Dentistry in Purcellville, Va.

Since he started, Mr. Nupp has performed more than 700 oral inspections. He keeps records of each visit, so he can review them each time he revisits the animal, just as a traditional dentist does.

“A lot of people don’t know the importance of the teeth,” Mr. Nupp says.

Many owners only make dental appointments when the animal starts behaving strangely.

Mr. Nupp, who grew up around horses in Ellicott City, says he can look at the animal’s behavior and almost immediately know what the problem is.

Horses, like rabbits, have teeth that continuously grow but get worn down from usage. Without regular inspections, a horse’s teeth can easily grow out of the correct pattern, which can lead to lacerated tongues and cheeks.

These problems can cause the horse to chew off balance, preventing it from getting the full nutrient value of its feed, and can cause extreme pain for the animal when using halters or bits.

During an inspection, Mr. Nupp prepares the horse with a special halter, called a speculum, which can mechanically prop the horse’s mouth open.

Wearing a headlamp, Mr. Nupp looks and feels around the horse’s mouth to check that its teeth are properly angled, that no teeth are coming inappropriately out of the gums and for other signs of trouble.

Each inspection and correction session takes 30 to 45 minutes. “I’m putting them completely back in balance,” Mr. Nupp says. “I know if the horse is happy when I leave.”

Horse teeth can be very sharp, Mr. Nupp says, but the speculum helps him feel safe while he sticks his fingers and arm into their mouths.

Mr. Nupp says he is trying to build up enough business so that when he retires in a few years, he can support himself through equine dentistry without the extra day job.

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