The importance of regular dental care for horses

Regular dental care by a qualified equine dental technician (EDT) or vet is essential to a horse or pony’s overall health, comfort and performance. Prevention is better than cure, some horses are very stoic and will not necessarily show pain and will often suffer in silence until the problem worsens.

At a young age a horse/pony should have regular checks, ideally at least every 6 months. Apart from the obvious sharp enamel points that horses are predisposed too, and that research has shown are exacerbated when feeding cereals rather than forage, a vet or EDT can pick up on conformational abnormalities early, and has more scope to correct them when the horse is young thereby preventing bigger issues later on in life. Young horses also require more frequent dental care because the composition of their teeth tends to be softer, so they develop sharp enamel points faster.

If these abnormalities are left undiagnosed/untreated they can develop into more serious issues, such as poor mastication which can result in weight loss, pain, infection and colic as a result of the horse not being able to chew its food properly.

Horses with any abnormalities which require correction such as a wave mouth, will need to be seen more regularly which your vet or EDT will discuss with you. Treatment may be required every 3-6 months until your vet or EDT is happy with the improvement made.  Horses with an overbite or underbite can develop hooks and ramps due to that portion of the tooth not being in constant wear with the opposing tooth.

Horse dentistry

The importance of regular dental care in ridden horses allows the horse to respond more easily to the riders aids and minimizes fussiness on the bit. If no issues are apparent then ridden horses would need 6-12 monthly dental checks to maintain their dental arcades and to prevent and or diagnose dental problems.

Senior horses, like younger horses, need to be seen more regularly as they are at greater risk of developing problems within their teeth and gums, i.e. periodontal disease, loose and or displaced teeth. These issues cause pain which will lead to decreased chewing/eating and then weight loss. In studies carried out by Dengie, horses with poor dentition consumed two-thirds less forage compared to horses with normal teeth so it’s no surprise that older horses lose weight when their teeth start to fail. This can be addressed by providing fibre in a format that is easy to chew: products such as Alfa-Beet, Pure Grass Pellets and Hi-Fi Senior are all useful for older horses that can no longer manage long length forage.

It is important that all horses, ponies and donkeys whatever their use i.e. broodmare, companion or old and retired, should all still have their teeth regularly checked.

For further information on the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians or to find details on your local Equine Dental Technician click here.

Written by Lili Harvey BSC (Hons) BAEDT member