- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

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Summer, 13, walks toward Dr. Julie Bullock as reluctantly as any child to a dentist. At 1,100 pounds and standing 16 hands, Summer is no child, but then, Dr. Bullock is no ordinary dentist.

Dr. Bullock, 40, owner of Performance Equine Services, has been a veterinarian for 12 years. She owned Middle River Veterinary Hospital for five years but sold that business so she could focus primarily on horses and equine dentistry.

"My first love is horses, " Dr. Bullock says, "and I decided that I wanted to work only with horses."

Her concern for the animals is apparent as she works on Summer. Dr. Bullock has everything prepared in the barn. First she injects the Arabian with detomadine to help him relax. Within minutes, his eyes and head begin to droop, his legs wobble and bow outward.

Dr. Bullock places a large speculum inside the horse´s mouth, cranking it open so she can work freely on his teeth. She sprays his mouth with disinfectant from a large syringe and sticks her hand and arm inside. Tossing out any extra feed that might be stuck between Summer´s teeth and gums, she grabs a filing device called a float, and the work begins.

Equine dentistry is an emerging field, says Dr. John Dascanio, associate professor of equine field service at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. According to Dr. Dascanio, more veterinarians have focused on dental care in the past five years because more horse owners now realize the benefits.

Having the teeth floated is important because a horse´s teeth continue to grow throughout its lifetime, and floating helps horses eat better and retain more of their teeth as they get old, Dr. Dascanio says.

A horse´s teeth should be examined at least once a year, Dr. Dascanio says. Some horses may not require any work, depending on their diet, what they graze on or whether they are competing rather than grazing in the back yard. However, if a horse´s teeth are overlooked, many problems can result, including colic, poor performance and abscesses.

The tools of the trade have not changed much over the years, Dr. Bullock says. A float is a hand-held filing device that comes in various shapes and sizes, such as short, angled or straight. Use of different floats depends upon the tooth or teeth requiring work, Dr. Bullock says.

Advancements such as the full-mouth speculum, a device that holds a horse´s jaws open, and power floats, which are motorized and require more precision, have made the upper-body strength needed for wrestling with horses less necessary.

At 5-foot-1, Dr. Bullock may appear petite, but she has both the strength and the tools for the job. She says she could work on a barn full of horses in a day if necessary.

"Horses are considered a companion animal, " Dr. Bullock says. "They are no longer considered farm animals. Owners spend a tremendous amount of time with them. For the owner, it is a hobby, and they want to provide the best care."

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, using surveys and estimates, ranked Virginia 12th in the nation for equine inventory, estimating that there were 150,000 horses in the state, up from 145,000 in 1998.

The horse industry is becoming more specialized, with services such as massage and acupuncture available. Dr. Bullock says she hopes to fill a niche by offering clients dental care.

"We´re a very specialized society, and veterinary medicine is moving in that direction because vets just can´t be in every place, " Dr. Bullock says.

For Dale Bartley, owner of 110 horses and the Star "B" Stables, it is unrealistic to have a veterinarian look at each of his horses.

"If you have one horse, you can spend a fortune on a veterinarian, " Mr. Bartley says. "If there is something wrong, I usually pick up on that."

Mr. Bartley, 74, grew up working horses, but he offered advice to those less knowledgeable who might be unaware of problems.

"Sometimes when their teeth get bad, they´ll wad up the hay and spit it back out, and that´s when you need to pay attention, " Mr. Bartley says.

"We´re a very specialized society, and veterinary medicine is moving in that direction because vets just can´t be in every place."

Dr. Julie Bullock

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