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 requires healthy teeth that do their job well for your horse allowing effective chewing, digestion and nutrient absorption. This then creates a healthy, happy and willing companion.



Normal teeth

The horses’ cheek teeth run very deep in the skull (fig.1). Unlike in humans, cats and dogs, horses’ teeth erupt continuously throughout life. Cheek teeth of older horses therefore run less deep because they’ve erupted and worn down more.

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 one year old and by five years, all permanent teeth should be present. This means that during the time a horse is broken in and started, there are still a lot of changes that occur in the mouth. This can cause a horse to try to avoid the bit or chew on it excessively. Please be aware of this if you’ve got a young horse that’s not accepting the bit. Have your vet check its teeth.


How frequently are dental examination and treatment recommended?

We often 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 bad teeth causing your horse pain?

Horses have evolved as prey animals and as such are able to hide pain-indicating behaviour. This natural response was useful to minimize the chances of being picked upon by a hungry predator however, it makes it difficult for anyone to identify 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 can lacerate the cheek and tongue leading to painful ulcers
  • Hooks and ramps, which restrict movement of the jaw and may even pierce soft tissue if left untreated for too long
  • Diastema / food pockets, where food gets stuck, rots and causes inflamed and retracted gums and pain
  • Erupted or retained wolf teeth
  • Retained deciduous teeth that can interfere with permanent teeth emergence
  • Wave mouth and other imbalances, leading to higher stresses on some teeth, predisposing for 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 as much as is possible 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 any equine issue you may need help with
  • Put in place a reminder for the next appointment

Sedation, is it necessary?

We often sedate horses for equine dentals, why is this? 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. Visualisation 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 of 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 that the horse doesn’t have 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 equine vet has 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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