By Vet Dr Adrienne Robins and Equine Technologist Courtney Norton
Please see information about our Equine Dental Offer here. Only $150 plus mileage. The special offer includes an individualised dental procedure, sedation, dental charting and a basic health check.
Horses need frequent dental care as they have hypsodont teeth which continuously erupt throughout life. During mastication (chewing) the teeth grind against each other in a circular nature and wear each other down. The most important factor for a healthy mouth in our equids is access to long fibre length (i.e. pasture and/or hay); feeding large amounts of grain or short fibre (e.g. chaff) will limit the natural chewing motion and will eventually lead to uneven wear of the teeth which results in a number of different abnormal wear patterns, the most common being sharp enamel points. A routine dental corrects this wearing.
A routine dental serves four main purposes:
- to remove sharp enamel
- to alleviate stress on abnormally worn teeth
- to improve mastication, which enhances digestion
- to prevent discomfort associated with the bit
The frequency of dental care is determined by age and previous dental history. Horses under the age of five should have a dental examination every six months to ensure their teeth are erupting correctly. Horses over the age of five should have a dental examination annually unless previous problems have been identified.
A veterinarian can offer additional benefits when performing the dental; a thorough health check is performed before the dental procedure and will enable us to determine if there are any other issues currently afflicting your horse. Our dentals are performed under sedation which allows for better visualisation of the teeth and identification of problems. For males, a sheath cleaning and checking for a bean in the urethral pocket can be performed whilst sedated.
Below is a list of common problems we find on routine dental examination in horses:
Sharp Enamel Points (SEPs)
SEPs develop when the normal grinding motion of the jaw is reduced, causing the outer aspects of the upper cheek teeth and inner aspects of the lower cheek teeth to not wear down adequately. These sharp points can rub on the inside of the cheeks and outside of the tongue and cause ulceration. Two of the main signs of SEPs are feed packing in the cheeks and dropping feed on the ground when chewing.
These occur when the first upper and lower cheek teeth do not line up directly over one another and there is an aspect of one (either upper or lower) that does not get worn down during the chewing motion.
Diastema means a space between the teeth. Horses teeth are in tightly packed groups (incisors and premolar/molar. If a diastema develops, food will be forced into this. The food then decays which causes significant inflammation of the gum surrounding the diastema. In time, infection can progress deeper into the space around the tooth, leading to loosening of the tooth or infection of the tooth-roots. This will ultimately result to the affected teeth being extracted or falling out. This is one of the more painful conditions a horse can develop, and needs ongoing treatment to flush out the pockets and keep the teeth as healthy as possible.
Refers to vertical misalignment of the molars when the jaw closes together. Rather than meeting evenly in the middle, one tooth is “dominant” and is longer. It can wear its adjacent tooth all the way down to the gum. Wave mouth will inhibit the normal circular grinding motion making it harder to get food to the back of the mouth. There are many different factors that can contribute to a wave mouth.
A simple form of wave mouth is called Step mouth, where only one tooth grows excessively. Most common cause is the tooth adjacent is missing.
By performing regular dental examinations on your horse, we can identify any abnormalities and work to correct these issues. Some issues can be resolved easily (i.e. minor SEPs), whereas some issues need to be managed throughout the life of the horse. Staying up to date with regular dentals will not only help to keep your horse comfortable, it will also enable us to perform regular checks and investigate any issues early, hopefully before they manifest into major concerns.