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Teeth and equine dentistry

Recent studies have found that up to 70% of horses have undiagnosed dental problems.

  • Last reviewed: 21st July 2022
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The number of horses with undiagnosed dental problems is a real welfare concern for our horses. Dental problems can seriously deteriorate unseen until the horse shows clinical signs. 

No pain? Check again

Horses are stoic animals, which means they can endure pain for long periods of time without showing signs, especially with pain related to teeth! Due to this, many horse owners don’t realise that their horses could be suffering in silence. 

Prevention is better than cure and it is important to maintain regular dental health checks throughout their life by a veterinary surgeon, an Equine Dental Technician registered with the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians or category 2 members of The World Wide Association of Equine Dentistry. 

We recommend dental checks every 6-12 months to make sure any unidentified issues are treated as quickly as possible. This recommendation will vary for older horses or those that have specific abnormalities. 

The benefits of regular dental checks

  • Keep your horse eating with maximum efficiency 
  • Early intervention is better than dealing with a dental catastrophe – studies show long term problems are harder to treat 
  • Make sure your horse is kept pain-free - there may be no signs 
  • Prevent the likelihood of tooth loss and other dental problems in older age – horses are living longer – they need good teeth 
  • Avoid bitting problems, especially when introducing the bit to a horse for the first time 
  • Make sure your horse is working to their optimum ability 

Keeping our horses healthy and performing to the best of their ability means making sure that horses can eat and work pain-free and productively. Chewing and grinding feed is essential to your horse’s survival.

 

In collaboration with Chris Pearce MRCVS and the team at Equine Dental Clinic Ltd 

Signs of dental problems

The early signs of dental problems are very subtle and may not be noticed by owners or carers at all. Very often the horse will not show any outward signs that anything is wrong. When horses eventually show outward signs of dental discomfort, the problem may have been developing for quite some time.

  • Resistance and evasion to the bit or bridle  
  • Changes in behaviour for example the horse becomes aggressive due to being in pain
  • Change in behaviour when ridden for example head tilting, head tossing, mouth open, irregular head carriage
  • Dangerous ridden behaviour for example rearing, bolting or bucking
  • Facial swellings
  • Inflammation of the gums  
  • Headshaking
  • Depressive behaviour
  • The horse only chews his feed on the same side of his jaw, every time
  • Bad breath (halitosis) often caused by decaying tissue damaged by periodontal disease
  • Long fibre or undigested food in droppings
  • ‘Pouching’ of feed in the cheeks
  • Quidding - dropping partially chewed hay
  • Dropping hard feed
  • Refusing to eat
  • Discharge and / or smell from one or both nostrils
  • Excessive salivation
  • Choke
  • Weight loss
  • Colic

Most of these signs will relate to conditions that have been present for some time, or a more advanced dental problem for example a fractured tooth. Amazingly, many horses show absolutely NO signs of even advanced dental disorders. Regular detailed examinations are very important to identify any developing problem.

Signs related to ridden evasion or resistance can commonly be misinterpreted as bitting or tack issues which then often results in a new bit or tighter noseband.

The first thought should be to check if your horse is in pain.

Dental checks

It's important your horse has regular dental checks so that potential issues can be handled as soon as possible.

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