Equine dentistry is a very important, but until recently, a rather neglected area of veterinary medicine, with a significant percentage of horses suffering from undiagnosed and often painful disorders. Many of these horses fail to show clinical signs and suffer pain in silence. These horses are likely to under-achieve in their work, and dental pain could affect their very nature, and indeed some of these horses will have been written off in the past as having a bad nature.

Previously the only treatment available was to rasp (float) the teeth, examining them as best as possible both visually and manually in an un-sedated horse. This is still appropriate in a well-behaved horse that only has sharp enamel points on the buccal (outside) edge of the upper teeth, next to the cheeks and sharp enamel points on the lingual (inside) edge of the lower teeth, next to the tongue. At Parkside Equine we use a modern Hauseman Gag to hold open the horse’s mouth and very sharp rasp blades allowing our equine team to quickly, efficiently and safely rasp a horse's teeth. All our Vets have been fully trained in equine dentistry. 

However, examining the mouth of an un-sedated horse is not always easy in what is often a moving target and is likely to miss some of the painful conditions which may not cause any outward signs. Once identified, these conditions commonly cannot be effectively treated with the hand instruments traditionally used. Over the last few years, huge advances have been made in the recognition of these conditions, and specialist instruments have been designed to help diagnose and treat them.

To make a detailed examination of the horse’s mouth, the horse should ideally be restrained in stocks, such as the ones we have at our surgery. Once in the stocks a short acting sedative is given allowing us to wash out the mouth (to aid visibility) apply the Hauseman Gag and fully examine the mouth both manually and visually with the aid of equine dental mirrors. At Parkside Equine we have specialised dental power equipment with which we can treat most dental problems we find in horses' mouths.

The equipment used to carry out this dentistry is expensive and needs to be used by veterinary surgeons trained in advanced dental care and treatments, but has revolutionised the treatment of dental disorders in the horse. At Parkside Equine we have a special interest in equine dentistry, and extensive training and experience in using this equipment and the whole team of equine veterinary surgeons are constantly improving our knowledge with continuous professional development specifically on equine dentistry.

Regular dental care is not just for the horses with problems in their mouths - regular examinations and recording the veterinary surgeons findings are the best way to ensure your horse has the maximum comfort in its mouth at all times. This ensures your horse is kept pain-free and healthy, which in turn optimises their performance both when ridden and chewing their food. At Parkside Equine we strongly recommend that all horses have at least an annual dental check, which is often done when we administer their vaccinations. Our treatment (and how often further check-ups should be done) is dependant on our findings, but we will always advise what is in the best interests of your horse on an individually tailored basis rather than a blanket cover-all advice, which may not be correct for your horse.

See more about Dental Development on the RIGHT

 

See more about Dental Problems below -

 

What sort of common problems can arise with horses’ teeth?

Let's start by looking at youngsters under five years of age. Yes! - surprisingly enough, young horses do get dental problems. A lot of change and development takes place in the early years starting with the development of milk teeth during the first nine months of life then the replacement by permanent adult teeth between 2½ and 4½ years of age. We commonly see problems associated with the loosening of the milk teeth, particularly the cheek teeth, primarily the dropping of food, particularly hard food, or the reluctance to eat fibre such as hay. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for these enamel caps to break and leave pieces of tooth embedded in the sensitive gum. We are not in favour of removing milk teeth unless they are causing a problem but if there are symptoms to suggest a loose or fractured milk tooth get Parkside to make a full mouth examination. These teeth are easily removed and this will make your horse much more comfortable.

Another commonly found problem in youngsters is swellings on the lower jawbone or mandible. These swellings are usually associated with the development of the adult cheek teeth. The rule of thumb is that if they are symmetrical i.e. equal size and present on both jawbones, then they are likely to be normal tooth development and will disappear as the horse gets older. However, if the swelling is on one jawbone only, is hot and painful to touch, or is discharging then there may be an abscessed or impacted tooth. The permanent cheek teeth erupt so that the last one to grow in is the third cheek tooth, and it has to force its way into a small gap. By doing this it eliminates any gaps between the cheek teeth so that you have a continuous enamel ridge or grinding surface with no gaps where food can be trapped and subsequently cause gum disease. On occasion there is insufficient space for this tooth to erupt so any suspicious lump should be x-rayed to ascertain if this is the problem. 

In the middle aged (between 5 -15 years) horse, the most common problem we see is laceration of the cheeks caused by large enamel spikes. Removing these spikes is of paramount importance to the horse's wellbeing as it re-establishes an even surface for him to efficiently grind and chew his food prior to swallowing. We spend a great deal of money feeding a horse so we want to maximise the nutritional value he gets from it. Providing a smooth surface also allows us to use a bit and bridle without causing pain and damage to the horse's sensitive mouth. Vets should use a mouth gag when rasping a horse's teeth so the next time your horse is being rasped ask if you can feel these spikes for yourself. Once you have felt these spikes, particularly on the outer surface of the upper cheek teeth, you won't need any further convincing about the importance of regular rasping! Many a poor horse has been called everything under the sun for being difficult to ride when, in actual fact, he is in extreme discomfort from his teeth every step of the way.

A very common problem in as many as 15% of horses is the development of large hooks on the front of the first upper cheek tooth with an associated large hook on the back of the sixth lower cheek tooth. This is caused by the upper arcade of teeth being slightly more forward than the lower arcade, therefore an area on the first upper and sixth lower is not in wear. These hooks can grow so big that they catch the gum on the opposite jaw when the horse chews - ouch!! No wonder these horses tend to lose weight and will often spit out food, particularly hay, having tried to chew it. If you find little balls of rolled up hay in your horse's box he may have this problem. Regular dental rasping will prevent this developing - in young horses you may have to rasp every six months as it is this period of the horse's life that the teeth are erupting fastest. In older horses we see a huge range of different problems, many of them associated with abnormal wear during the middle years of life. Problems will be minimised by inspections and preventive treatment every year.

The growth later slows down, but not always all at the same time, and we often find a wave appearance to the cheek arcade instead of two flat surfaces that can grind against one another. This makes chewing more difficult and less efficient - so the horse will lose weight, particularly in the wintertime, and this needs our more specialised equipment to make corrective efforts. Hay is the most difficult food for the horse to eat as it is dry, the stems are long, and it has to be well ground before it is swallowed. If your horse is not eating the expected quantity of hay then there may be a problem developing. Loss of weight is a very common symptom of teeth problems, and we can often manage these problems if caught early.


Wave formation in a neglected mouth.

Cheek teeth will eventually grow out leaving a smooth surface which is useless for grinding. We have one patient who has only four cheek teeth left! When teeth are missing, you get food trapped in the gaps so a common symptom is the presence of a bad smell from the mouth or swelling on the side of the cheek where the food is trapped.

Finally, to broach a contentious subject - clients often ask about horse dentists. As in all spheres of life, some are better than others, but in making your decision you should be aware that any equine dentist should be licensed to perform equine dentistry – check the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians website HERE Only six dental technicians are currently licensed in Scotland, which means that if your dental technician is not on that list, they may not have had the appropriate training. Legally, no official training is required to perform hand rasping (no power tools) or remove caps, but improper rasping, particularly over-rasping, can cause teeth to become infected and need removal, causing life-long problems for your horse. Licensed dental technicians are legally permitted to hand rasp teeth, use power tools to rasp the teeth and remove very loose teeth or wolf teeth but no more than that unless they are working with a vet at the time. Even licensed Equine Dental Technicians (EDTs) are not allowed to remove fractured teeth or to administer any drugs, such as sedation, without a vet present. If something goes wrong, and with horses there is always the risk of that, then an unlicensed ‘dentist’ is likely not going to have professional indemnity insurance, whereas a veterinary surgeon is required to have professional indemnity insurance as is a licensed EDT. As most of the ‘dentists’ travel around the country they are not as likely to still be accessible in the event of a problem or dental emergency as a local veterinary surgeon or licensed EDT.

This has only touched the surface of the problems associated with abnormalities of horses' teeth. We have tried to stress the importance of prevention rather than cure and that the horse's comfort and confidence directly affects his ability to enjoy his job and do it well. Yearly checks are especially recommended, for the reasons explained. With the Equine facility at Kings Cross Road surgery and with more dental specialisation within the practice, we are now in a position to do much more in the treatment of teeth problems - call if you think your horse has a problem. 

 


PERFORMANCE DENTISTRY REALLY CAN HELP GIVE YOUR HORSE OPTIMUM PERFORMANCE!

 

 

 

 

 

Read about teeth care from
Keeping Britains Horses Healthy 
HERE

 

 

 

 

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DENTAL DEVELOPMENT

During the first nine months of life a foal will develop six upper and lower incisor teeth (grazing teeth) and six upper and lower cheek teeth (chewing teeth). These teeth are milk (deciduous) teeth and will be replaced by permanent adult teeth at specific times from approximately 2½ to 4½ years of age, and by five years of age a horse will have a full mouth of permanent teeth. These consist of six upper and lower incisors, four canines (not always but most commonly in geldings) and twelve upper and lower cheek teeth.

In addition, a small rudimentary cheek tooth (wolf tooth) is sometimes present immediately in front of the first permanent cheek tooth, more commonly in the upper jaw. This small tooth serves no function and can, in many cases, cause discomfort as it sits where the bit comes into contact with the jaw. Wolf teeth can also break or become loose - again causing a problem, so my advice is always to have them removed by your veterinary surgeon. This is a very simple job, using a mild sedative to minimise any discomfort, and takes only a few seconds. On occasion, minor gum damage may occur and your vet may wish to administer an antibiotic. Washing the gum area for a few days with salt water will also help.

Regular annual dental care is necessary because of the structure and pattern of wear of horses teeth. The grazing horse spends 12 - 14 hours of his day tearing and grinding grass and his teeth have specifically evolved in construction and shape to allow maximise efficiency for this. They are coated with extremely hard enamel to cope with the continuous grinding action. The cheek teeth are rectangular in shape and are in direct end to end contact to make a continuous ridge of solid enamel surface. To cope with the inevitable wear the teeth continue to grow into old age, when the growth declines and the teeth gradually wear down and fall out. The two grinding surfaces are the upper and lower cheek teeth on both sides of the mouth. During the grinding process the force applied is not consistently even over the entire surface i.e. the outer surface of the upper cheek teeth and the inner surface of the lower cheek teeth receive less force than other areas. This reduces the wear on these surfaces and allows the development of sharp edges or enamel spikes. These sharp edges and spikes can easily injure the soft, sensitive cheek areas especially when the bit is in the mouth and causing pressure. These spikes are normal features of a horse's mouth but must be removed by filing with specialised rasps for the horse's comfort and welfare, and for your safety when riding. If more advanced, with uneven teeth tables, they will need more specialised attention, which Parkside can provide.

On average it takes about a year for these sharp edges to redevelop and cause a problem so our annual inspection should be adequate (however, do remember that, like us, all horses are individuals!). To make a thorough examination we need to use a mouth gag that will allow both a visual and manual examination of the teeth. For safety, any examination with a gag should take place in a confined area i.e. a loose box. Even better, bring them to our new surgery, where we can box them, sedate them and examine them in a specialisd horse crush. Initial examination of the incisors is made before the mouth is opened and the gag is fitted. Most horses will co-operate willingly with this examination but, very occasionally, and probably due to some previous bad experience, a sedative is required - more so for more advanced problems and examinations. The inside of the cheeks is examined visually for signs of damage and the general shape and condition of the enamel surfaces is noted. A manual examination of the cheek teeth is then made for any abnormalities or spikes and for the presence of wolf teeth. A dental miror, after a mouth wash, is used to check the buccal (inner) surfaces. Enamel spikes are removed by rasping and a variety of size and shape of rasp are required to reach all areas of the mouth. A straightforward rasping of spikes where no abnormalities are present will take approximately five minutes. More advanced remodelling, which can take a few visits, is done using an electric power-float with a diamond-impreganted grinding surface. 

This can often be avoided by annual veterinary attention. We consider that five to ten minutes once a year can help prevent major dental problems occurring later on in life. It will also help keep your horse happy and comfortable when ridden and therefore improve safety and control for you. It makes good financial sense to combine the annual dental inspection with your horse's yearly vaccination. As a vet, dental care is a job from which we get a great deal of satisfaction - We would rather prevent a problem than have to deal with it, any day. Dental care is a vital part of a horse's health programme. Contact Parkside Equine if you have a query.