BUENA VISTA, Minn. (AP) - Groggy from sedation, Billy leaned his chin on a cushioned support as Dr. Richard Bowman ground away the rough edges of his molars.
Bowman, a veterinary dentist based in Rhame, N.D., travels the Midwest in his specially outfitted horse trailer cleaning and repairing equine teeth.
"There aren't very many traveling tooth fairies around," said Bowman. "Veterinarians who limit their practice to dentistry are probably 20 in the United States."
Billy and his team partner, Rose, were among a number of horses lined up in the waiting area outside Bowman's dentistry trailer recently at Buena Vista Ranch. Each of the elderly horses had tooth problems and periodontal disease and required removal of a molar.
Linda Keers, owner of Billy and Rose with her husband, John, joked as she tucked Billy's huge grinder in a plastic bag with Rose's tooth, that she had a pair to make into earrings. The Keers own Flying Eagle Ranch in rural Blackduck where they provide outings and horse activities for children from the Red Lake Nation.
"The kids will love these," Linda said, sealing the bag of teeth. "I'll say, 'This is what'll happen to you if you don't go to the dentist.'"
The Keers also operate the Eagle's Nest, a youth mission in Redby. Linda said Billy and Rose and their other horses are priceless because children can handle them.
"They're bomb-proof, and that's what's good for the kids," said John.
Before he began working on Billy, Bowman gave him a shot of sedative. When the horse's head began to sag sleepily, the dentist fitted the animal with a device to keep his mouth open.
"I sedate all of them; it's so much safer for them and us to have them calm," he said as he worked. "It's a scientific guess on how much you dose them. Some of them take a lot less and some take a lot more. The drafties don't take a lot."
Billy and Rose are old Suffolk draft horses. Linda said the rule of thumb is four human years equal one horse year, so at 25-plus years old, Billy and Rose are pushing the horse equivalent of the century mark.
Most large animal vets can float horses' teeth using a hand file to smooth off the rough edges so the animals can chew their food better. As an equine dentist, Bowman adds power tools and can fill teeth and perform other repairs. He said horses should have their teeth tended to from the time they are 2 years old.