Horses’ teeth grow constantly throughout their life, wearing down as they grind their food. Horses therefore need regular dental treatment to correct any abnormalities of wear that arise from their teeth not meeting perfectly, or from their pattern of chewing being asymmetric.
Even horses with teeth that meet well tend to develop sharp points on the outsides of the upper molars and the insides of the lower molars, which can cause cheek and tongue lacerations. At a regular dental check, a horse’s teeth can be examined, any sharp points rasped smooth to prevent injury, and irregularities of wear treated by rasping, or electric burring in the case of problematic teeth.
In addition, any teeth that are causing obvious problems with performance can be treated: wolf teeth can be removed, and the front molars can be ‘bit-seated’, which may help the horse in his response to the bit.
For many horses it is sufficient to check and treat the teeth once yearly, and this can be done by the vet at the time of the horse’s annual vaccination and check over. However, most horses over the age of 10, and some others that have abnormalities of wear, need their teeth checked and treated every six months, and in some cases even more often.
Should I use the dentist or a vet?
Most equine vets offer a dental service, so many horse owners prefer to use their vets for dental work. However, equine dental technicians are also available, and those that are well qualified have recently formed a professional body. Licensed equine dental technicians have completed a specified training and attained a certain level of practice, and have the necessary instrumentation to perform their job properly. By law they are allowed to carry out examinations and to treat dental overgrowths and sharp dental points.
However, where intensive treatment is needed, a vet may also need to be present in order to sedate the horse prior to treatment, and to supervise any extractions.
Although many unqualified horse dentists do still practise, it is hard to know what their level of knowledge, training and of experience is; they are not covered by the relevant professional indemnity should a problem occur. Ideally, therefore, horse owners should only use either vets or licensed equine dental technicians for their horses’ dental care.