Dairy cattle have the potential to be affected by poor dental health more than other farmed ruminants due to their high forage diet. But it is not known how much pain dairy cows may suffer during dental disease, nor is it known how this effects their behaviour or production levels. This research project piloted a grimace-scale using soon-to-be-culled dairy cows, in combination with a post-mortem dental health investigation, to determine a) if these cattle had dental problems and b) if this is something that could have been identified whilst they were alive.
The study showed that, in a pilot population of cull cattle, the prevalence of dental health concerns was significant (100% affected). This highlights that more research into this area to further understand the impacts and prevalence of these conditions is needed. No significant correlation was found between cattle with poorer dental health and cattle that presented with higher scores in the live grimace scale assessment. This result may have been influenced by the small sample group size or comorbidities.
It was anticipated that this study could determine if the cull cattle with poorer dental health also had a reduced production value in the months leading to slaughter. However, due to the significant number of variables in the health and production data and comorbidities such as lameness and mastitis, combined with the evidence that 100% sample group was suffering from dental health abnormalities, it was not possible to prove this hypothesis. It would be beneficial to have a control group of non-cull cattle to allow for an industry relevant comparison. This study has resulted in the production of an accurate Triadan-dental chart for cattle dentition. This chart could be used in veterinary teaching and has the potential to be used in bovine practice by veterinarians.
The investigator recommends that more detailed research be undertaken in this area to accurately determine the impact of dental conditions and to identify possible mitigations or interventions.