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Equine dentistry

Regular dental check-ups are essential to the general health of your horse.

Why do horses need dental treatments?

Unlike humans, horses’ teeth continuously erupt throughout their life (about 2-3 mm a year), to compensate for the wear that occurs during their normal mastication or ‘chewing’.
Horses’ teeth, during evolution, were adapted to highly abrasive diets and low energy foodstuffs on sandy soils. Now, we manage our horses very differently with relatively easily digestible and less abrasive diets. This causes limited wear, and this can also promote incisor and cheek teeth abnormalities. As a result, if there is no intervention with dental treatments, any abnormalities of wear are exaggerated with time.
Horses are hindgut fermenters and obtain only less than half of their energy needs from the products provided by bacterial fermentation (in the cecum). As such, the nutrition of horses relies largely on an effective intake of nutrients from the first part of the intestines after the stomach (small intestines) – this makes chewing and crushing with healthy teeth even more important.
With horses being prey animals, dental disease and dental pain can go unnoticed but can be prevented with regular dental care.

How often does my horse need a dental treatment?

As a rule of thumb, horses <6 years old and >15 years old might require dental treatments twice yearly, with other horses it might be sufficient to perform a dental treatment at least once year. With horses with severe pathology, we recommend treatment every 3 months until any pathology present is under control. The time for a follow up treatment is set after every dental treatment.
Keeping in mind that we can check dental health from birth onwards – to assess skull deformities, abnormal eruption patterns, etc. at a young age.

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

Why do we sedate horses for dental treatments?

After a physical examination we will provide your horse with a sedative so that we can perform a thorough oral examination and treatment. This does not only increase the safety for the horse, handler and veterinarian but also makes the horse more comfortable during the dental treatment. Research has shown that joint discomfort in the jaw joint is decreased when the muscles of the jaw are relaxed, and the horse is not biting the dental speculum. When the horse is sedated the tongue is more still and this allows us for better inspection of possible pathology like infundibular caries, peripheral caries, pulp horn pathology, diastemata and treat these accordingly. Also, lateral excursion (chewing movement) is assessed before and after treatment, and this can’t be done in an unsedated horse.

Dental instruments

The equine veterinarians at Totally Vets Awapuni recently upgraded their equine dentistry equipment. We have a digital camera (oroscope) available for highly detailed pictures of the teeth and soft tissues of the mouth and use the latest models of powered dental instruments to ensure the best treatment possible.

Equine health program

Please contact one of our equine veterinarians for a plan that works for you and your horse. This is especially beneficial when your horse needs frequent dental treatments and this helps to maintain the complete health of your horse.

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