Dentistry

Oral and dental health have a significant impact on a horse’s well-being, performance and lifespan.  There are a multitude of issues which can be linked back to poor dental care which include:

Colic

Choke

Weight loss

Nasal discharge

Facial swelling

Head tossing

Halitosis (bad breath)

Bit resistance

Poor performance

McLaren Vale Equine Veterinary Services, equine vet starting, McLaren Vale region, Adelaide

Annual dental examinations will facilitate early detection of problems such as periodontal disease, enabling treatment to be instituted early.   Dr Simone Herbert has undertaken additional equine dentistry training with Equine Veterinary & Dental Services and Advanced Equine Dentistry and is passionate about the link between good equine health and good dental health.  She is a member of Equine Dental Vets (www.equinedentalvets.com.au) and is currently enrolled to site the ANZCVS membership examinations in Equine Dentistry in 2018.

Dental examinations are important for horse both in-work and those retired/spelling in a paddock.  The early signs of dental disease such as bit resistance and quidding are more easily identified in horses seen/worked each day, however issues can still occur in unridden horses.  Broodmares should be checked and rasped annually to ensure good mechanical digestion of feed to achieve good foetal weight gain during gestation without undue feeding expense.

McLaren Vale Equine Veterinary Services, equine vet starting, McLaren Vale region, Adelaide
Perioprobes and waterpick

HDE Float

Powerfloat

Extraction equipment – molars, canines, incisors, wolf teeth

Diastemma burrs

Custom designed crush with head support/sling and scales

Cap Extractors

Annual dental examinations will facilitate early detection of problems such as periodontal disease, enabling treatment to be instituted early.   Dr Simone Herbert has undertaken additional equine dentistry training with Equine Veterinary & Dental Services and Advanced Equine Dentistry and is passionate about the link between good equine health and good dental health.  She is a member of Equine Dental Vets (www.equinedentalvets.com.au) and is currently enrolled to site the ANZCVS membership examinations in Equine Dentistry in 2018.

Dental examinations are important for horse both in-work and those retired/spelling in a paddock.  The early signs of dental disease such as bit resistance and quidding are more easily identified in horses seen/worked each day, however issues can still occur in unridden horses.  Broodmares should be checked and rasped annually to ensure good mechanical digestion of feed to achieve good foetal weight gain during gestation without undue feeding expense.

Perioprobes and waterpick

HDE Float

Powerfloat

Extraction equipment – molars, canines, incisors, wolf teeth

Diastemma burrs

Custom designed crush with head support/sling and scales

Cap Extractors

McLaren Vale Equine Veterinary Services, equine vet starting, McLaren Vale region, Adelaide

Requirements for a complete dental examination:

Sedation – most horses need a light level of sedation to enable access and assessment of all areas of the mouth. Much like humans at the Dentist, horses will tend to avoid allowing access to the places where there is pain, so without sedation these areas can go undetected

Haussman gag (cheek teeth examination) and Incisor gag (incisor/canine examination)

Powerful light source

Long handled mirror

Diastemma

Young Horses - Every 6 Months

  • Start around 18-24 months old and continue every 6 months until 6 years old.
  • Deciduous teeth (“caps”) are shed from 2.5yrs to 5.5yrs old as the permanent teeth come into occlusion, so the mouth in constantly changing as these teeth erupt. Examination should check for retained caps which may cause discomfort, difficulty eating and bad breath.
  • Wolf teeth are the first premolar tooth and are present in some but not all horses. They can be naturally shed with the eruption of the first cheek tooth (106/206) but some are retained and required extraction.  Although small, these teeth have long roots which contain nerves and so should be extracted carefully in a sedated horse using local anaesthetic.  Wolf teeth can cause problems with the bit due to their position in the mouth and it is recommended that any horse be checked prior to breaking to avoid any unnecessary discomfort.  Horses should be vaccinated against tetanus when wolf teeth are extracted.

Middle Aged Horses - Every 9-12 Months

  • Routine annual check-ups from 6 years onwards will enable any early signs of periodontal disease to be identified, in addition to rasping any sharp enamel points to keep the mouth comfortable and chewing effectively and symmetrically.

Geriatric Horses - Every 6-12 Months

  • Horses over the age of 20 years old can start to show signs of tooth expiration as the teeth come towards the end of their lifespan. Regular monitoring will enable these changes to be managed effectively with as minimal impact to the horse as possible.
  • The teeth change shape becoming narrower towards the root and the angle also changes slightly with advancing years. These factors can lead to formation of diastemata (gaps) between the teeth and food can become impacted into these gaps, causing periodontal disease.  If left untreated some cases can progress to infection of the tooth roots, which may become apparent as abnormal chewing behaviour (quidding), halitosis (smelly breath) or nasal discharge from a sinus infection.
  • Missing teeth are more common as horses age.  Once a tooth is lost the opposing tooth is without its grinding counterpart and as a result can overgrow.  This excessively long tooth can then start to put abnormal pressures on other teeth which can lead to wave mouth formation, diastemmas and periodontal disease. Reduction of overgrown teeth must be performed very carefully to avoid exposing the pulp cavity which can be painful and allow infection to track into the tooth root.  Going slowly and regularly checking the surface of the tooth during reductions is essential to avoid complications.
  • Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption & Hypercementosis (EOTRH) is a form of periodontal disease causing the destruction of dental tissues that lead to weakness, tooth fracture, pain and infection. Veterinary dentists around Australia are starting to recognise more cases in older horses and are gaining an understanding of the factors contributing to this condition.

Why do horses need an annual dental check up?

Horses have hypsodont teeth which means they are constantly erupting throughout their life to counter the rate at which they are worn down by chewing.  The upper cheek teeth arcades are positioned slightly wider than the lower arcades meaning that the occlusal (grinding) surface of the tooth does not wear evenly.  This results in sharp enamel points (SEPs) developing on the outer edge of the upper teeth and on the inside edge of the lower teeth. These sharp enamel edges can cause ulceration of the cheeks and tongue where they are in close apposition, especially at the level of the nose band.  These ulcers can become quite deep and painful and can lead to resistance when ridden.

Hooks also commonly develop on the front of the first upper cheek teeth (106/206) and the back of the last lower cheek teeth (311/411).  If large enough, these overgrowths can interfere with the normal chewing action, limit the rostro-caudal movement of the mandible and can cause discomfort when ridden.  Asymmetry in height and shape of the upper first cheek teeth (106/206) can lead to bit resistance and head tossing during work.

Dental occlusion - sharp enamel points

Rasping teeth requires careful reduction of the enamel sharp points, hooks and excessive transverse ridges on the occlusal surface of the tooth.  Both the specially designed Powerfloat and HDE Float are quiet, safe and well tolerated by the vast majority of horses.  Occasionally slimline hand floats are needed to access restricted spaces within the mouth, such as the buccal aspect of the upper 10’s and 11’s.  Ponies, miniature horses and shetlands are also catered for with a smaller sized Haussman gag, shorter length rasp attachments and movable chest/tail bars in the crush to facilitate a comfortable examination.

In addition to reducing enamel points and hooks during a routine dental rasp, veterinary dentists also assess:

  • Oral soft tissues – lips, cheeks, tongue, hard palate, gums
  • Abnormalities such as
    • periodontal disease
    • infundibular caries (cavities in teeth)
    • diastemmas (gaps between teeth)
    • mal-aligned, missing or fractured teeth
    • wave mouth/shear mouth conformations
  • Bit seat symmetry and comfort

Any abnormalities detected can be investigated further using radiography and endoscopy/sinoscopy, allowing diagnosis at the time of examination and prompt initiation of a treatment protocol.