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Equine dental checks

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

  • Last reviewed: 19th July 2022
Dentistcheck (1) Dentistcheck (1)

Who should examine my horse’s teeth?

There are two key people who will be suitably qualified to check your horse’s teeth: 

It is important to be aware that there are many ‘equine dentists’ who do not have sufficient qualifications. As a result, serious problems could be missed or ineffective treatment given to your horse which could have serious implications in the future.  

At what age should I start getting my horse’s teeth checked?

Getting your horse's teeth checked a minimum of once a year from when they are a foal (to make sure the teeth are aligned and erupting correctly), will go a long way to making sure they have the healthiest teeth leading into their older years. The occurrence of periodontal (inflammatory) disease increases with age but can be prevented with routine dental examinations. 

It is especially important to have your horse’s teeth checked before introducing the bit for the first time. The presence of any wolf teeth has the potential to cause interference and discomfort. It is important the horse has a pain-free experience otherwise they may become difficult to have a bridle put on if they associate this action as causing discomfort or pain.

If you have recently purchased a horse, it is sensible to have their teeth checked as soon as possible. The history of the horse may be unknown to you, and it is important to identify any problems as soon as possible. 

What happens at the dental visits?

It is best if your horse is stabled and relaxed for a dental visit. Arrive early and make sure the stable is clean and tidy. Don’t give a feed before the visit. The vet or Equine Dental Technician will need water; warm water is preferable in the winter. The routine for the procedure is normally as follows: 

  1. Your vet/EDT will ask some questions including age, veterinary and dental history, and if there are any problems with ridden performance and temperament. Your horse should be vaccinated for tetanus. The details should be filled, either paper or electronic, for record purposes.  
  2. A little sedative may be given depending on the horse’s temperament and how relax they are. Do not be concerned about this or feel this is somehow wrong or unusual. Dental examinations, just like we would expect are not always comfortable – especially if pain is present. Your horse will not want painful areas touched or examined and they can easily be missed. EDTs cannot legally sedate, if necessary, a vet may have to be called as well. 
  3. A mouth speculum (‘gag’) is placed to keep the horse’s mouth open and is then washed out thoroughly. The head may be placed on a head-stand so your dentist/vet can have a good look without holding the head up. 
  4. A thorough examination is carried out – looking with a bright head light, palpating all the structures and recording the findings on the chart. A dental mirror will be used to see every angle.  Dental picks and probes are also used to check for gaps, cavities, and other diseases.
  5. Treatment of sharp points, focal overgrowths of individual teeth and general uneven wear is performed using either hand rasps or motorised instruments. Special training is always required for motorised instruments, but when used by qualified people* they are very safe and efficient.
  6. The mouth is rinsed and examined again, further rasping may be needed to make sure nothing had been missed.  
  7. The speculum is removed and the incisors are checked again, ensuring good cheek tooth occlusion (contact between the teeth).
  8. Once the treatment is completed it will be recorded on the chart for future use and recommendations for follow-up are discussed with the owner or carer.