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Straight from the horse's mouth

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

A look into the importance of equine Dentistry

Horses have teeth- lots of them, and while this may not come as a surprise, the fact that horses (and Donkeys) require routine dental care may. Studies show that up to 1/3 of horses and up to 100% of donkeys suffer from dental disease, often unknown to their owners. In this article we'll explore the signs of dental disease and the importance of treating it to keep your equine companions healthy and pain-free.

Prevention leads the way!

As with many medical conditions, prevention to dental disease is far easier than treatment. For the average horse, a dental examination and "Floating" needs to be done once a year however this can range from every 6 months to several years depending on your horse. One thing to note however is that all horses whether they get ridden or not will benefit from dental care (mini's & donkeys too!). Some signs that there might be a problem with your horse's oral cavity are bit sensitivity, excessive drooling, foul odors, discharge from the nostrils, dropping feed or losing weight. However, as horses are prey animals they often hide signs of pain or weakness so a horse continuing to eat is not a sure sign of a healthy mouth. A full dental exam should be completed once a year by your veterinarian until your horse's "normal" timespan between floats can be determined.

Why don't wild horses need dental care?

A common question faced by horse enthusiasts is why their horse requires dental care when horses in the wild have seemed to do just fine without. The answer is actually quite simple. In the same way that wild horses don't 'require' hoof care while domesticated horses do it all comes down to lifespan. Horses that are owned and cared for by humans live much longer than their wild cousins and this is hugely in part to regular care of their teeth, hooves, and other parts of their bodies. In the wild those with poor feet or teeth would be the least likely to survive long enough to reproduce.

What's included in an equine dental exam?

When your veterinarian comes for a dental check on your horse there are a few things you can expect. Firstly, a thorough physical exam will be completed prior to the dental check to ensure that the other body systems- particularly the heart are in good condition prior to sedation. Then your vet will sedate your horse as this will make the situation much less stressful for the horse and the owner alike. Even the calmest horses will benefit from sedation as both the noise and having their mouth open for an unnaturally long time is a lot to ask of any horse. A speculum will then be placed in order to hold your horses mouth open; an essential for a complete dental exam as the horses teeth extend to almost directly below the eyes. While this device may seem imposing it is designed to allow for maximum comfort while maintaining safety and the ability to do a thorough job for your veterinarian. Once the speculum is in place your veterinarian will look at all the teeth and more importantly feel them for missing ones, fractures, sharp points or other irregularities in the tooth line.

After that will come the actual float where points are worn down to an acceptable level and poor bites are corrected. In cases of wolf teeth, these may also be removed at this time at the discretion of your veterinarian. Depending on the severity of the issues medication such as analgesics or antibiotics may also be prescribed and several visits over the next months may even be needed to correct the issue. Care will also be taken to ensure that the grinding surfaces of the teeth are left intact so that he or she will still be able to grind hay. Again, a power float may seem alarming but in most cases a power float will both do better job and last longer than one done manually and are very safe for your horse. Don't hesitate to ask your veterinarian about the differences if you are concerned.

In some cases more severe conditions may also be identified, such as abscesses above the tooth lines or fractures into the sensitive part of the tooth, which allows access for bacteria into the bloodstream. Depending on your facility and the equipment required these cases may be referred to a veterinary hospital but in general, the earlier the problem is identified the less likely it will require a referral, again pointing to the importance of regular exams.

Take Home Message

Dental care for horses is just as important as it is for humans. By having routine dental examinations serious issues that may require referral surgeries can be prevented, delayed or at the very least recognized early enough to be treatable. Most importantly however, you can ensure that your horse is free of dental pain and discomfort. Don't hesitate to speak with our equine veterinarian about dental care today!

Written by Dr. Emily Zakrajsek


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