Equine dentistry

Regular dental check-ups are essential to the general health of your horse. The health and condition of your horse starts with good nutrition. Good nutrition starts with healthy teeth that can do their job allowing your horse to effectively chew, begin the digestion process for optimal nutrient absorption. This then creates a healthy, happy and willing companion.



Normal teeth

The horses’ cheek teeth are deeply embedded in the skull (fig.1). Unlike in humans, cats and dogs, horses’ teeth continuously erupt throughout life. Cheek teeth of older horses have erupted and worn down over the years so can sit quite superficial in the jaw.

By the age of nine months, most deciduous teeth (milk teeth) will be in wear. The permanent teeth start to erupt when the horse is a year old and by age five, all permanent teeth are present. This means that during the time a horse is broken in and started, there are a lot of changes occurring in the mouth leading to bit avoidance or excess chewing from pain. Be mindful of this when you are starting a young horse and its accepting the bit. Have your vet check its teeth to rule out any problems or associations with the negative behavior.


How often are dental examinations and treatments required?

We suggest your horse gets a dental check annually, to ensure problems are identified and treated early. Some younger horses and those with less than favourable alignment require six monthly check ups.


Are neglected overgrown teeth causing your horse pain?

Horses have evolved as prey animals and as such are programed to hide pain so they don’t get eaten. This natural response was useful to minimize the chances of being picked upon by a hungry predator however, it makes it difficult to recognize those early behavioral signs when your horse is in pain. A complete and thorough dental exam is the only way to make sure your horse is not suffering from dental disease.


Some common problems that can occur and often go untreated are:

  • Sharp enamel points that may lacerate the cheek and tongue causing painful ulcers
  • Hooks and ramps, which restrict movement of the jaw with severe cases developing large lacerations and holes in the opposing soft tissue (gums) if left untreated
  • Diastema / food pockets, where food gets caught, rotting leading to inflamed and retracted gums
  • Erupted or retained wolf teeth that are loose or fractured below the gum line when removal was attempted
  • Retained deciduous teeth that can interfere with permanent teeth emergence
  • Wave mouth and other imbalances, causing over wear of the opposing tooth, leading to development of diastema and other changes
  • Excessive transverse ridges, restricting normal mastication

What happens when the vet visits?

During the initial visit, our experienced vet will:

  • Ask about any problems noticed during riding or feeding/eating
  • Carry out a full exam to identify any dental conditions and explain them to you
  • Treat any issue in the field
  • Supply a report for each horse treated
  • Administer a tetanus vaccination if necessary
  • Option to collect blood for selenium testing and offer help on other issue they may have noticed during their initial clinical examination
  • Put in place a reminder for the next appointment

Sedation, is it necessary?

We routinely sedate horses for equine dentals, however your horse my not have been sedated in the past for dentals so is it really necessary? Sedation allows a thorough examination to be performed every time, not just when the horse prefers. It is also recommended for the safety of the owner, vet and horse. Visualization of many small intraoral structures is next to impossible in the un-sedated horse. Normal practice in veterinary equine dentistry internationally dictates that these structures are evaluated. Sedation facilitates high quality diagnosis, followed by correct treatment.

Sedation is also used to reduce the stress and anxiety your horse might otherwise experience during the examination and treatment (whether hand- or power tools used). Many horses internalise stress, they may seem calm on the outside showing little signs of discomfort but on the inside, there is a lot going on. Not every horse likes going to the dentist!


Which is better, handtools or powertools?

There is much debate about this amongst horse owners. Both techniques have their pros and cons, but the most important aspect is who is using these tools, their level of training and knowledge. We have both options available but prefer power tools to do the bulk of the work. Power tools have some important advantages: 1) they are much quicker, so the horse isn’t required to open its mouth for any longer than necessary, 2) they allow each tooth to be individually treated and very particular areas of the tooth can be worked on in isolation, 3) the teeth in the back of the mouth can be treated without unintentionally bumping into the jaw bone and disrupting the soft tissues of the mouth.


Do powertools cause tooth damage?

Power instruments can cause damage to the tooth in untrained hands. Our vets have had all required education and experience on how to safely and effectively use these power tools to ensure the wellbeing of the horse while acquiring optimal results. Used judiciously in well-trained hands, they are a time and effort saving tool that can accomplish more detailed work.

Would you like to make an appointment for your horses’ dental care, give us a call.


Fig 1 - equine dentistry
Fig.1: This horse has sharp enamel ridges that have damaged the cheeks and the tongue (not visible on this picture).
Fig 2 - equine dentistry
Fig.2: Diastema (gaps between teeth) with food stuck. Diastema /food pockets are usually missed if the teeth are not checked visually by your horses’ dentist.
Fig 3 - equine dentistry
Fig.3: Here, the food has been cleaned out of the diastema from Fig.2. The food packing and gingivitis around the 4th cheek tooth on this picture has caused the gingva to retract and the pocket has become a few centimetres deep! A horse may stuff food in its cheeks to pad a painful area. However, problems are often insidious at start.
Fig 4 - equine dentistry
Fig.4: Hooks and a step prevent the natural movement of the jaw, which can interfere with eating and riding. Problems are often insidious at start.
Fig 5 - equine dentistry
Fig.5: A dentist should always carry a mirror to visualize some of the more subtle, but possibly serious issues that can occur. This picture shows caries in a cheek tooth. The infundibulum in this tooth is no longer a yellow/off-white coloured structure, but has food stuffed in it.
Fig 6 - equine dentistry
Fig.6: A dentist should always carry a mirror to visualize some of the more subtle, but possibly serious issues that can occur. This picture shows a diastema that has been cleaned out with our specialistic equipment.
Fig 7 - equine dentistry
Fig.7: A dentist should always check the front teeth as well. These teeth show uneven wear, which should be corrected.
Fig 8 - equine dentistry
Fig.8: Shear mouth is when the angles of the teeth on one or both sides is very steep. This horse has very uneven teeth, which leads to problems eating and riding. Problems are often insidious at start.


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