The Importance of Equine Dentistry

26/06/2021

Equine dentistry has evolved massively over the last two decades moving from an optional extra to an essential part of a horses upkeep.
 
The horses mouth is an area not easily examined by the owner (not without risking a few fingers!), therefore regular examinations are advised at 6-12 monthly intervals.  Horses are incredibly good at hiding signs of pain as they are prey animals, in the wild showing signs of pain or disease would identify them to a predator as an easier target, this is also true for dental conditions and pain.  So just because your horse isn’t showing any signs of dental disease does not mean they shouldn’t get checked.
 
As a rule of thumb, young horses should be checked every 6-9 months, middle aged horses 9-12 months, sports horses (especially those doing collected work) 6-9 months and older horses 6-12 months (depending on any problems they may have). Any horse which has known dental problems or teeth which have been extracted will need to be seen every 6-9 months. Sports horses especially those doing dressage should have their mouths regularly maintained (6-9 months) to ensure a consistent performance and prevent the unnecessary loss of points whilst competing.  This is often something which is regularly overlooked even in elite sports horses but can make a massive difference!
 
A routine dental examination should be exactly that, an examination, it is no longer acceptable to just “knock off” a few sharp points.  A routine dental examination should encompass an extra oral examination (outside the oral cavity – facial symmetry, jaw movement and temporomandibular joint) and intra oral examination (inside the mouth).  To properly assess the inside of the mouth your vet or equine dental technician (EDT) will need to place a gag to hold the mouth open and use a bright light source to fully inspect the mouth.  Often there is food still in the mouth which will need to be flushed out so the teeth and soft tissues (gums, cheeks, tongue and pallet) of the mouth can be properly visualised.  Specialised equine dental mirrors and picks allow each tooth and surrounding soft tissues to be properly examined. By performing a thorough examination, any potential problems can be identified earlier and hopefully prevented from advancing further.
 
As previously mentioned the horse can be incredibly good at hiding signs of oral pain, even to the extent where a horse can have a tooth which has fractured into two, with both parts still being present in the mouth and trapping large amounts of food but the horse hides their pain so well that it isn’t noticed until their routine dental examination.  The ability of the horse to hide any evidence of oral pain even when advanced dental disease is present is a prime example of why the “examination” is so important.  When examining the mouth we are looking for sharp enamel overgrowths, ulceration of the cheeks and tongue, malocclusions/displacements, tartar build up, wolf teeth, abnormal gaps (diastema) and periodontal disease (gum disease), caries and cavities in the teeth.
 
Depending on the findings of the examination, a treatment plan can be made. For most horses this is just a routine rasping of the sharp points and correction of any malocclusions (severe malocclusions or overgrown teeth may require multiple visits to correct them fully). For horses with other dental problems further diagnostics may be required such as oroscopy (dental endoscopy), X-rays or CT scan and or further treatments at a later date. At the end of the examination and rasp you should be given a detailed dental chart for your records and advise when the next examination is required.
 
There are a number of signs to look out for which may signify your horse should be examined, these include difficulty chewing, quidding (spitting out partially chewed food), facial swellings, nasal discharge and bitting issues. Any of these signs could signify there is a problem in your horse’s mouth which should be checked sooner rather than later. Generally dental conditions are not seasonal however in the autumn and winter we do see a worsening of diastema (abnormal gaps) and associated gum disease. This is due to the increased feeding of forage which is more likely to become stuck in diastema. In some instances alterative fibre sources may be required to reduce this.
 
It’s incredibly exciting how far equine dentistry has advanced and what the possibilities for the future may hold. I am certainly proud to say we can now offer dental care for your horse which is comparable to what you can get from your human dentist.
 
Dr Kieran Rowley of The Equine Dental Surgery Ltd

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