Reg­u­lar den­tal checks are es­sen­tial for good equine health, writes Siob­hán English

Irish Independent - Farming - - HORSES -

GOOD den­tal care is as im­por­tant to your horse’s well-be­ing as your own. Yet many own­ers choose to take short­cuts when it comes to pre­vent­ing dis­ease and en­sur­ing their equines are com­fort­able when they are rid­den.

Not too many of us will visit an un­qual­i­fied ‘hu­man’ den­tist in our life­time, but in the equine world, there are many still will­ing to seek the ser­vices of peo­ple un­qual­i­fied for jobs such as far­ri­ery work and equine den­tistry.

“As an owner, if you are us­ing an equine den­tal tech­ni­cian, you need to make sure they are ei­ther mem­bers of the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Equine Den­tal Tech­ni­cians or the World Wide As­so­ci­a­tion of Equine Den­tistry to en­sure they are prop­erly qual­i­fied,” said the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Bri­tish Ve­teri­nary Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, Rob Pas­coe.

Un­der the Ve­teri­nary Sur­geons Act 1966, all di­ag­nos­tic and treat­ment pro­ce­dures in the horse’s mouth are acts of ve­teri­nary surgery.

How­ever, there are a lim­ited num­ber of pro­ce­dures that, de­spite be­ing con­sid­ered acts of ve­teri­nary surgery, can be car­ried out by suit­ably qual­i­fied EDTs.

To date, there have been sev­eral routes avail­able to be­come an Equine Den­tal Tech­ni­cian, in­clud­ing pri­vate ap­pren­tice- ships, over­seas train­ing and for­mal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes in the UK.

“The term ‘den­tist’ should only be ap­plied to the hu­man field and there is no di­rect equine equiv­a­lent, though vets with diploma level qual­i­fi­ca­tions are the near­est thing,” said Neil Townsend, a spe­cial­ist in equine surgery.

“Only ve­teri­nary sur­geons can ad­min­is­ter treat­ments such as an­tibi­otics and anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries and pro­vide sedation, whether oral or in­tra­venous.”

In re­cent weeks, a new raft of re­sources for both horse own­ers and vet­eri­nar­i­ans un­der­tak­ing oral care on horses is be­ing pro­moted by the Bri­tish Equine Ve­teri­nary As­so­ci­a­tion (BEVA).

The new on­line re­source ex­plains ex­actly what rou­tine den­tistry en­tails and who is qual­i­fied to do what in your horse’s mouth — there are strict reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing what non­vets can do.

So who should look af­ter my horse’s teeth? By us­ing your ve­teri­nary sur­geon or a den­tal tech­ni­cian who is a mem­ber of the BAEDT, you en­sure your horse re­ceives den­tal care from a prop­erly qual­i­fied in­di­vid­ual who has ap­pro­pri­ate in­sur­ance and is pro­fes­sion­ally reg­u­lated.

In­di­vid­u­als who are not reg­u­lated, or who de­scribe them­selves as ‘equine den­tists’, are not legally al­lowed to un­der­take the same type of den­tal care for your horse.

Pre­ven­tion is al­ways bet­ter than cure, so en­sure that your horse has reg­u­lar den­tal checks. Mon­i­tor­ing your horse for signs of any den­tal dis­com­fort is cru­cial be­ing mind­ful that some horses, even with ad­vanced den­tal dis­ease, will suf­fer in si­lence.

Early de­tec­tion and treat­ment of den­tal ab­nor­mal­i­ties is vi­tal as one prob­lem tends to lead to a va­ri­ety of prob­lems in time, which can be more dif­fi­cult to cor­rect. Some prob­lems may need to be treated over a pe­riod of time rather than at one ex­am­i­na­tion.

For ex­am­ple a large over­growth will need to be re­duced in stages to avoid the sen­si­tive struc­tures within the tooth from be­com­ing ex­posed.

On ini­tial ex­am­i­na­tion, your vet or equine den­tal tech­ni­cian will ask some ques­tions about your horse, his eat­ing habits and any prob­lems you may have no­ticed, as well as per­form a brief ex­am­i­na­tion of his head to check for sym­me­try and swellings. A gag (ap­pa­ra­tus to hold the mouth open) will be used to al­low a full visual and man­ual ex­am­i­na­tion of the whole mouth, in­clud­ing the teeth, palate, tongue, cheeks, bars and the lips.

Gen­er­ally, a rou­tine rasp­ing will then be car­ried out to re­move any sharp edges on the cheek teeth. In most cases, this is done with a va­ri­ety of hand­held rasps.

If there are large over­growths or the mouth re­quires more ad­vanced treat­ment, mo­torised equip­ment and/or more ad­vanced tools may be used.

Don’t be alarmed if it is sug­gested that your horse would ben­e­fit from sedation to al­low even the most mi­nor of pro­ce­dures and rasp­ing.

Speak to your vet about sedation and to ask any ques­tions you would like an­swered. They may be able to pre­scribe an oral seda­tive, which you can give be­fore the ap­point­ment, how­ever, in many in­stances your vet will give the sedation di­rectly into the vein. Sedation al­lows your horse to re­lax, en­sur­ing the pro­ce­dure can be car­ried out ef­fec­tively and safely for all par­ties, in­clud­ing your horse, the han­dler and the vet or equine den­tal tech­ni­cian.


De­signed to chew rough fi­bre for over 18 hours a day, a horse’s teeth are very hard wear­ing. This diet, to­gether with the horse’s chew­ing ac­tion, wears his teeth down at a rate of ap­prox­i­mately 2mm-3mm per year.

To com­pen­sate for this wear, a horse’s teeth con­tinue to erupt through the gums into the mouth over time un­til he reaches an age when there is sim­ply noth­ing more left to erupt. When this oc­curs, he sim­ply loses his teeth.

In the wild, the horse’s own chew­ing ac­tion gen­er­ally wears his teeth evenly to pre­vent sharp edges and spikes from form­ing over time. How­ever, as it is now more nor­mal for us to sta­ble our horses and feed them con­cen­trates, their nor­mal chew­ing ac­tiv­ity is re­duced which can re­sult in sharp edges form­ing, caus­ing dis­com­fort and eat­ing prob­lems.

Equally, ex­pect­ing our horses to work in bri­dles puts other pres­sures on their mouths, which wouldn’t nor­mally hap­pen in the wild.

The horse has a to­tal of 36 teeth, with males hav­ing ad­di­tional ca­nine teeth, which are not nor­mally present in mares or fil­lies.

Ad­di­tion­ally, some horses develop ‘wolf teeth’, which are small func­tion­less teeth that can erupt just in front of the first cheek tooth.

The in­cisors or front teeth are de­signed for graz­ing and bit­ing at grass, whilst the cheek teeth or mo­lars, which ex­tend to the level of the eye, are re­spon­si­ble for grind­ing food.


A horse’s teeth can wear down at a rate of 2mm-3mm a year

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