The importance of your horses dental examination and regular routine dental care
Having your horses teeth regularly checked by either a vet or a suitably qualified dental technician at least once a year is highly recommended. Checks at least twice a year are advised in younger and older horses or those with more severe dental abnormalities etc.
Horses can show signs of dental pain and discomfort when dental pathology is present but often horses do not show any external signs of dental discomfort and adapt to cope with pathology, suffering in silence, which is why regular thorough dental examinations are advised.
Signs that your horse may be suffering with dental disease and pain include:
- Hallitosis (bad breath)
- Quidding (Dropping food)
- Weight Loss
- Food packing in their cheeks
- Nasal discharge or facial swellings
- Reduced appetite/ eating slowly/ chewing on one side of their mouth
- Poorly digested food in droppings
- Difficulty when being ridden e.g. abnormal head carriage, evasion of the bit etc.
Horses teeth are very hard wearing as they are designed to withstand the chewing of hard roughage for at least 18 hours a day. The average rate of wear of horses teeth is 2-3mm a year. Horses teeth continuously erupt throughout their lifetime to counteract the normal wear of the teeth until there is no more tooth to erupt in later life. This is why older horses may eventually require a change in management of feeding to adapt to their change in dentition.
Domestication of horses has led to horses being stabled and fed more concentrated feeds which has had an effect on the natural wear of their teeth. Horses are prone to developing sharp enamel points on the outer edge of the upper teeth and the inner edge of the lower teeth which can cause soft tissue trauma to the cheeks and tongue causing pain and difficulty eating. The pressure of bridles overlying these can also cause discomfort. Frequent dental work enables these points to be reduced to keep your horse comfortable.
The aim of the dental examination is to evaluate whether there are any dental abnormalities that need addressing, performing a routine rasp of the horses teeth to reduce any enamel points and correct any overgrowths and formulate a future plan for your horse – whether that just be advising on when to check the horses teeth again or advising on whether any ancillary diagnostics or treatments need to be carried out if there is an issue e.g. dental radiographs, dental endoscopy etc or referral to a dental specialist. Changes to feed management may be advised following dental examinations, especially in the older horses that are struggling to chew long fibre forage.
Some problems that are regularly seen on a dental examination include:
- Sharp enamel points on the upper and lower cheek teeth as described above which can cause trauma to the soft tissues in the mouth
- Focal over growths on teeth often due to misaligned teeth e.g. parrot mouth or due to missing opposing teeth.
- Fractured, loose, displaced or missing teeth
- Diastema (gaps between teeth) that can result in food packing and periodontal disease
- Tooth root abscesses
- Caries (infundibular and peripheral) which are the result of tooth decay and can lead to tooth fractures
- Retained deciduous (baby) teeth
- Supernumerary (extra) teeth
- Abnormalities of the incisiors
- The presence of wolf teeth that may be blind and unerupted or deviating abnormally causing dental pain.
Sedation of your horse is preferred to enable an accurate, thorough examination of your horse’s mouth, especially if there is a reported problem, but this is always considered on a case by case basis.
A brief note on who to get to do your horses teeth:
Choosing who to do your horses teeth can sometimes seem a little daunting. It should be noted that the term ‘dentist’ is protected for human medicine only and therefore there is no such thing as an equine ‘dentist’.
All equine vets are trained to understand the anatomy of the horses mouth and perform a thorough examination of the horses mouth along with the other horses body systems. Under the Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966) a “diagnosis” can ONLY be reached by a qualified veterinary surgeon and only vets are allowed to prescribe and administer drugs such as sedatives, pain relief and antibiotics etc. There are many equine vets who have done advanced further training to become ‘equine dental specialists’. The list of these people is tightly controlled and we as vets are able to refer normal routine cases and advanced cases to these specialists if needed.
Equine dental technicians (EDTs) are non-vets who have undergone training to provide equine dental care. The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) recommends using EDTs who are a member of the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDTs) or category 2 members of the World Wide Association of Equine Dentists (WWAED) as these EDTs have undergone approved exams to attain their qualifications and have to maintain their CPD and abide by the association code of conduct. As a practice, for insurance reasons, we are only able to sedate horses for these members.
The procedures that EDTs can perform are tightly controlled. The link below details the full list:
- Category 1 procedures can be performed by everyone including unqualified dental technicians;
- Category 2 procedures may only be performed by qualified dental technicians and vets;
- Category 3 procedures can only be performed by veterinary surgeons.
If you require any more information on this topic then please feel free to call the practice.