Routine equine dentistry check-ups are an essential aspect of horse health and management. Below are some answers to common questions about routine dental checks.
How often should you have your horse's teeth checked?
This depends on the age of the horse and any pre-existing dental conditions. A good rule-of-thumb is that a horse’s teeth should be examined at least once a year but in some cases checks may be carried out two or three times a year. Your vet or Equine Dental Technician (EDT) will advise you as to what is appropriate for your horse.
Up until the age of five years old the equine mouth undergoes a lot of change with the shedding of 'baby' teeth and the eruption of permanent teeth. Often, equine dental check-ups are more frequent during this period and settle into a more regular rhythm once all the adult teeth have erupted.
What to expect at your horse’s dental examination
Firstly your vet or EDT will ask some questions about your horse, their eating habits and any problems you may have noticed whilst performing a brief examination of their head to check for symmetry and swellings.
A gag will be used to ensure that the horse's mouth is held open and the mouth will usually be rinsed with water to prevent any food material affecting visualisation. A full visual and manual examination of the whole mouth will then take place inspecting the teeth, palate, tongue, cheeks, bars and the lips. A mirror and headtorch may be used to aid this.
Will my horse be sedated?
Many horses will tolerate routine dental examination and treatment quite well, and will only require normal restraint with a head-collar. However, the dental exam should not become stressful for your horse and since the safety of horse, handler and person performing the dental is paramount it may be necessary to sedate your horse.
Sedation is also standard for more advanced procedures that may be painful or time consuming.
Your vet may be able to prescribe an oral sedative, which you can give before the appointment, however in many instances your horse’s vet will give sedation intravenously. This allows your horse to relax ensuring the procedure can be carried out effectively and safely for all parties including your horse, the handler and the vet or EDT.
Following sedation it is important that you withhold food until your horse has woken up sufficiently and your vet will advise you on this at the time.
Routine rasping of horses teeth
Due to their angled shape and the lateral excursion of the horse's jaw, the outside edges of the upper teeth and the inside edges of the lower teeth often become sharp. These sharp edges can be uncomfortable for the horse.
This issue is addressed by a process known as 'floating' which involves using rasps to smooth any abnormally sharp areas of the cheek teeth. To reach all the different teeth in the mouth, a variety of rasps of different angles, shapes and lengths will be used.
In most cases the removal of sharp enamel edges and points will be all that is required during a routine check-up. Occasionally, specific overgrowth of certain teeth may need to be addressed; the most commonly encountered type are 'hooks'. 'Hooks' are overgrowths and sharpness affecting the first and last cheek teeth.