Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price
Learn who should inspect a horse’s dental health, how often to check it and how to spot any problems.
Sam Bescoby, an Equine Dental Vet, looks after the horses and ponies’ dental health at Glenda Spooner Farm Rescue and Rehoming Center. Sam has been kind enough to explain what routine dental care is and the common problems that can affect horses’ teeth.
Horse teeth must work hard to reduce grass and hay to 3mm before entering the stomach. This means that the teeth wear constantly. The horse’s teeth have developed a tolerance to high levels of attrition. They have a large amount of remaining tooth below their gum line, which erupts and grows over its life.
Horses’ teeth can wear unevenly due to the combination of domestication and the soil they are kept on. Horses don’t have to graze as long or as hard as they used to chewing grass. Good pasture is better. A horse riding can also cause pressure points around the mouth, which can lead to more serious problems.
Who should examine my horse’s teeth and gums?
Anyone can legally examine and manually rasp horses’ teeth in the UK. It is a highly skilled skill and untrained people can cause serious damage to horses’ teeth. There are many professionals who have completed training and passed rigorous exams. They also regularly attend training courses. The following professionals are qualified and recommended:
- Veterinary Surgeons. Many equine veterinarians do a lot of dentistry as part their regular workday. Their Royal College has designated a number of veterinary surgeons as either’specialists’ or ‘advanced in the field. These veterinarians can handle more complicated procedures and will be able to treat more dental issues.
- Equine Dental Technicians Qualified: Vets and other governing bodies recognize two groups of Equine Dental Techs. These are The British Association of Equine Dental Technicians, (BAEDT), and the WorldWide Association of Equine Dentistry, (WWAED). Each group requires that dental technicians undergo specific training and exams in order to be eligible to join their associations. Non-qualified dentists are not allowed to perform more procedures on horses’ mouths than their members. Lists of members can be found on their websites:www.baedt.com
What should I do during my horse’s routine oral examination?
Routine dental examinations should be performed every six months on horses aged eight or older. Horses between the ages 8 and 18 can have their teeth checked every 12 months if there is no cause for concern.
This is how you can expect to be treated by an Equine Dental Technician (or veterinary surgeon) when your horse needs a routine check-up.
- A thorough examination of the head to check for signs of potential dental disease such as muscle loss, nasal discharge or muscle wastage. A thorough history of the patient is taken, including questions about their ridden comfort, diet, and signs of possible dental disease like bad breath (halitosis) or dropping food (quidding).
- Modern equine dentistry requires sedation. It is impossible to treat what you can’t see. Horses may need a mild dose of sedation in order to have a complete oral exam. Although your horse may be able to tolerate a rasp unsedated, small areas of disease can still be overlooked if they are not sedated. Most dental diseases can be treated in the early stages. If we overlook subtle signs, it is often very easy to make an emergency treatment.
- Oral exam
a) First, the incisors must be checked. These teeth are used primarily for grazing. Horses can become sick if they eat from the small holed net or out in pasture. We also feel for pain in the front of the mouth, which can lead to discomfort after the bit is put.
b) The jaw is held open with a speculum. Finally, the mouth is washed.
c) Each tooth is gently tapped to identify any sharp points, missing or mobile teeth.
d) Next, the inside of your mouth is examined with a bright headtorch. Any concerns are then addressed with equine dental probes.
- It is now possible to create and execute a treatment plan. Motorised dental rasps are being used by most professionals. These new models are very quiet and safe, and can be used to reduce any sharpness or overgrowths. Operators can view the rasp with a light sedation or headstand and make sure that only the problem areas are addressed.
- The final rinse is completed and the speculum removed.
- The chart contains information about what was found and how it has been treated. This chart can be used to help you if your horse needs further treatment.
What are the signs and symptoms of horse dental problems?
Horses can have a variety of problems in their mouths. Horses with dental pain might show the following symptoms:
- Quidding is when chewed food can be thrown out or spit back out.
- Weight loss
- Halitosis – bad breath
- Reluctance around the head to touch
- Severe swelling of the face or jaw
- Nasal discharge – This is usually yellow in colour and only one side.
It is very common for horses not to show any signs of pain, even if they have major issues. Regular routine exams are important.
What are the most common problems with horses’ teeth?
Conditions of Wear
Over the horse’s life, equine teeth continue to erupt. This replaces the tooth’s surface that has been worn down by chewing. This system requires good dental health, a healthy diet, and no underlying disease. Disorders of wear can develop when this system ceases to function properly. These are:
- Sharp enamel points
- Steps and waves
- Lost teeth
These problems can be easily corrected with routine dental care before they become serious.
Periodontal disease (gum disease),
Periodontal disease is the most severe and common equine dental condition. This is why horses quit feeding and become more ill. Horses can chew at speeds exceeding 150kg. If there are gaps between teeth, feed can be deeply impacted. It is usually possible to correct food packing and gum disease early on. Advanced cases may require more invasive treatment, and sometimes removal of teeth.
Although fractured teeth can be painful, they can be detected during routine examination. This is because the tooth may have caused large amounts of ulceration. Horses can still show no signs of pain despite having serious problems. Tooth decay is the most common cause of fractures that vets treat.
Many fractures can easily be treated using long, dental instruments placed in the horse’s mouth. These extractions may require more complicated surgical procedures in rare cases. It is important to have regular dental check-ups, especially if there are any concerns.
Dental treatment has improved to the point that we can treat problems earlier than they become severe enough to require extractions. Root canal treatments and fillings can prevent tooth decay from progressing. If we don’t look into horses’ mouths regularly, we won’t be able to spot signs early enough for preventative treatment.
If you have concerns about your horse’s teeth, it is important to get in touch with your veterinarian or Equine Dental Technician as soon as possible. Preventative treatment can help resolve many common issues before they become serious. Your horse’s health is at stake if you don’t schedule routine dental care (every six to eight months for horses aged eighteen or older, and every twelve months if your dentist recommends otherwise).