Dentistry: No other area of Veterinary Medicine has such a direct impact on your horse’s health, quality of life, and longevity!
Equine Dentistry is a basic part of horse health care that is often overlooked! Horses that receive routine dental care feel better and live longer, more productive lives. Just like in humans and pets, oral diseases predispose the rest of the body to systemic infections. Also, like dentistry in other species, equine dentistry should be approached as preventative health care. Dentistry, at a modest fee, should be performed yearly to prevent costly treatments on diseased teeth. Furthermore, severely diseased teeth may be uncorrectable, and treatment options may be limited to tooth extraction.
Over 75% of horses have dental disease! If your horse is not receiving routine dental care, your horse is probably among this 75%! Many horse owners do not realize how important their horse’s mouth is to its overall health because dentistry has not traditionally been a popular veterinary discipline. The good news is that this trend has changed for the better since the mid-1990s and continues to improve! The current interest in veterinary dentistry has been met with both increased research and exponential improvements in equine dental care procedures.
The horse’s teeth have evolved solely for the purpose of eating grass. Grasses are very coarse and actually contain gritty particles (silicate) which wear the teeth away as the horse chews. Unlike the crowns of human teeth which erupt to a predetermined height and stop, a horse’s teeth continue to erupt (push up through the gumline) for the entire life of the horse. The eruption and wear rates are equal (for grazing horses), and the teeth maintain a constant crown height.
Horses evolved to graze grass over 18 hours daily! And the single most important factor in preventing equine dental disease is allowing your horse to graze as much as possible! Since domestication and use of horses often precludes this ideal unlimited grazing, routine dental care is required to maintain healthy teeth.
Deviations to the normal eruption process of the adult teeth and abnormal or decreased chewing (horse fed grain rations) often cause abnormal wear patterns (dental malocclusions) that can lead to severe health and performance problems. Once a dental problem starts, it rarely corrects itself and usually progresses causing problems to other teeth and oral tissues. Routine dental care is important to identify and correct dental problems as early as possible.
The goal of equine dentistry is the treatment and prevention of oral/dental pain and infection through the maintenance of proper tooth alignment, which improves both the horse’s longevity and quality of life.
The following pages are designed to help educate horse owners about the importance of “Comprehensive Dental Care” so that they can make informed healthcare decisions.
What is Comprehensive Equine Dentistry?
It is not just “Floating” Points! The most important part of dental healthcare is a Oral Comprehensive Examination. All treatments should be based upon an Examination!
The “Routine” Dental Care Visit should include:
Examination and Diagnosis: All health problems must be correctly diagnosed before a treatment plan can be prescribed. Likewise, dental conditions must be correctly diagnosed before treatment begins. A thorough examination of all oral tissues, not just the teeth, is the most important part of routine equine dentistry. Recognition of dental conditions may require diagnostic imaging (X-rays) to formulate an accurate diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis.
Occlusal Adjustment (OA): This “orthodontic” procedure involves correcting malocclusions so that the horse can chew properly. Teeth are living tissues, and inappropriate OA can cause more severe dental conditions, as well as kill teeth. The long term goal of this procedure is to prevent dental conditions throughout the life of the horse.
Floating: Removal of Sharp Enamel Point is a minor part of the total dental procedure, yet this is the focus of incomplete dental work (performed by untrained dentists). Points are removed to relieve pain and discomfort; however, this procedure alone will not affect the functionality of the dentition.
In addition to “routine” dental care, the following dental disciplines are currently practiced on equine patients: Endodontics (Root Canal Therapy), Exodontics (Extraction), Orthodontics, Periodontics, Restorative Dentistry, and Oral Surgery. Radiography (X-rays) is required to practice these dental disciplines at the current standard of veterinary care. These procedures are best performed by veterinarians who have received advanced dental training.
Beware the Equine Dentist: The title of “Equine Dentist” is commonly used by unlicensed dental providers as a marketing scam. While most of these individuals are likable horsemen/horsewomen, they are not healthcare professionals. Most equine dental procedures, to include floating, are irreversible and should only be performed by trained veterinarians. Too many horse owners only discover the truth about the qualifications of “Equine Dentists” after their horse has been injured! If in doubt about a healthcare providers qualifications, call the TN State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners before allowing services on your horse!