Dentistry is a rapidly growing area of equine work. This is undoubtedly due to the increase in understanding of the importance of a healthy mouth for the general wellbeing and performance of a horse. A huge amount of research has driven massive improvements in the understanding of how a horse’s mouth works and how it can benefit from regular specialist attention.
To enable complete dental examinations and to ensure work is performed thoroughly our vets regularly treat horses under sedation. This enables better visualisation of all teeth and improves the safety of horse, owner and vet especially when motorised tools are used. It also reduces stress for the horse making them less likely to be nervous of undergoing such procedures in the future.
We normally recommend that a horse’s teeth are examined yearly - this is often done at the same time as the vaccination saving the cost of a visit charge. Some horses require dental work every six months but others will only need attention every couple of years. By regularly checking teeth you will ensure that any minor issues can be dealt with promptly before more serious problems develop.
Horses’ teeth grow continuously but have a limited amount of hard enamel which needs to be preserved and maintained by ensuring a level grinding surface. Any disruption to the grinding surface, such as an overgrown tooth or a missing tooth, can drastically change the way that a horse chews leading to the development of further problems in the mouth.
But horses manage in the wild don’t they?
People often ask how horses in the wild manage without regular dentistry yet we recommend annual checks for domesticated horses. There are a few reasons for this;
- The top jaw of a horse is wider than the bottom jaw. Horses and ponies in the wild have a wide excursion (grind) due to the very coarse grass they constantly feed on. This ensures that all edges of the teeth are evenly worn. Horses rarely do this in a domestic setting, even when on a forage only diet, and this creates the formation of sharp points.
- We ride our horses by putting a noseband on a horse, the delicate soft tissue of the cheek is pressed into the sharp points which tend to develop on the outer edges of the upper cheek teeth. This discomfort can lead to head tossing and other evasive behaviours when the horse or pony is ridden. Similarly, if your horse is bitted, the tongue is pushed down onto the sharp points which form on the inside edges of the lower teeth.
- Many horses and ponies in the wild may well have dental issues and as a result, they are likely to live shorter lives than our domestic horses. When horses were prey animals they would be at high risk of predation if they were suffering from dental disease. Most wild horses probably actually die as a result of dental disease as they will eventually struggle to retain the condition they need to survive cold winters.
By maintaining the health of your horse’s mouth you can be sure that:
- Your horse will be getting the most from their feed
- Dental issues can be recognised long before the horse starts showing signs of dental disease
- Your horse is less likely to show dental pain associated behaviours when riding (such as head tossing, leaning on one rein, being ‘one-sided’ or constantly ‘mouthing’)
- You will save money! (Resolving dental problems once they have become established costs significantly more than annual dental checks!)
A word of caution
With the availability of powerful motorised equine dentistry tools it is vital that you ensure that the person using them is qualified and insured to do so. Even minor alterations created in the horse’s mouth can result in major changes in the way your horse chews and wears his teeth. It takes just seconds for damage to be done and sometimes this damage is irreparable. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for a horse owner to see into their horses’ mouth and therefore the damage done often goes unnoticed. This means it is VITAL that you can rely on the person performing the dentistry and that the work is INSURED. Only veterinary surgeons can legally perform all categories of dental work which includes extractions, diastema widening, and wolf teeth removal. In addition, it is illegal for anyone other than a vet to prescribe sedatives and pain relief which most dentistry work warrants the use of. It is almost impossible to fully assess a mouth, let alone perform safe, appropriate corrective work without the use of sedatives so we always advocate the appropriate use of them alongside dental work.