Dental care is very important to good horse management. Our Equine dental service is led by Dr Sam Hole MRCVS who holds a European Diploma in Equine Dentistry – this is currently the highest possible level of qualification possible in the field. Sam lectures in Equine Dentistry and examines in the subject for the British Association in Equine Dentistry. Other Vets at Pool House Veterinary Group have undertaken postgraduate training in dentistry, and the practice has invested in modern automated equipment to ensure a high standard of dental care for all our patients. We have a dedicated Equine Dental (standing) operating theatre where advanced procedures such as fillings, extractions and dental fracture repairs can be undertaken by Sam and his team as well as advanced dental health checks for performance (and other) horses.
All of our ambulatory vets are equipped with a full range of modern ‘floats’ (rasps) with tungsten carbide blades. This equipment enables dental treatment to be performed rapidly with minimal trauma to the mouth. Extensive dental treatment must only be performed by a veterinary surgeon and in our practice we have a full range of automated equipment at our diagnostic facility including radiography and, if required, general anaesthesia.
The horse is a herbivore and uses its massive molar teeth in a grinding motion to break down grass and other material into a more easily digested pulp. In the wild, horses obtain all their nutrition from grazing – sometimes up to eighteen hours per day. Domesticated horses are fed much of their nutritional requirements as ‘hard’ feeds which do not require the same degree of mastication. Therefore sharp enamel points sometimes develop on the outside of the upper molars and inside of the lower molars in domesticated horses.
Most horses develop so-called wolf teeth. These are in fact the first premolars. In some animals these small teeth cause discomfort whilst the horse is being ridden. They are usually extracted under heavy sedation, the procedure should only be performed by a Veterinary Surgeon. Anti Tetanus prophylaxis is ESSENTIAL when removing these teeth. It is NOT the case however that all wolf teeth need removing and before doing so you should be satisfied that a problem exists. As a general rule of thumb, the BIGGER the wolf tooth the LESS likely it is to cause a problem. Small sharp pointed teeth are more often implicated in problems.
Who is an Equine Dentist?
In Britain, only qualified and properly registered Veterinary Surgeons can legally act as Equine Dentists. Vets receive extensive training on the anatomy and physiology of the horse’s mouth during their five year degree courses. Treatment by any other person is against the Law. Unfortunately, in the past, equine dentistry has been a neglected area, and some people call themselves equine dentists and treat horses with no training or anatomical knowledge. There are many people claiming to be dentists today who fall into this category; although some dental technicians have received training, by law, they should only work under direct Veterinary supervision. Because of concern as to serious welfare problems that have arisen due to lay dentistry, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has introduced a course in dental techniques for Equine Dental Technicians after which they can demonstrate their competency by taking an exam. Successful EDTs can join the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT). BEVA recommends that before using a lay dentist you should check that your Vet is happy with his work and that he has had proper training and is a member of the BAEDT. In the future, DEFRA may recognise this qualification with an amendment to the Veterinary Surgeons Act. All members of BAEDT should carry full insurance, unfortunately, many of the so-called ‘dentists’ have no professional insurance, so if a problem occurs neither you nor your horse will have any cover. In addition, the use of an unqualified person to treat your animal will invalidate your horse’s insurance.
Excessive dental work is as much a problem as too little. We have come across instances of over enthusiastic rasping of teeth by ‘dentists’. In some cases, even when the horse had no medical problem before the so – called treatment. Remember, removal of large amounts of tooth is rarely indicated and may significantly shorten the horse's life expectancy.
Dos and Don’ts of equine dental health
- Do ensure a yearly dental health check for your horse.
- Do use a properly qualified person, this should be a Veterinary Surgeon.
- Check your horse’s mouth at least weekly for sores, and palpate the cheeks for any sharp points.
- Do check your hay net for stones or other foreign material that can chip your horse’s teeth.
- Do check for bad breath, facial swellings, or one-sided nasal discharges on a daily basis.
- Don’t stick your fingers in your horse’s mouth – unless you want a serious and painful injury!!
- Don’t use unqualified or uninsured people to treat your horse. You wouldn’t dream of letting someone with no training loose on your own teeth, so why do it to your horse? Check that any lay dental technician is a member of BAEDT as this indicates that he has basic training and has demonstrated this in an examination.