New services now available from the practice.
Equine dental care has improved dramatically in the last year or two. The advances in the understanding of dental disease and its treatment as well as the function of horses normal dentistry is moving quickly and the development of new equipment reflects that.
The equine veterinary professionals, all of who are the most qualified to care for your horses teeth, are quickly becoming aware that this oral medicine has been almost neglected in the past. These days a full dental and oral exam consisting of the use of the full mouth gag, a light, mirror and various probes is what should be expected and not just a cursory glance whilst holding the horses tongue. This should be followed by treatment of any dental abnormalities with a variety of hand and motorised tools as appropriate.
It is my opinion that any treatment, other than routine rasping of sharp points, should be carried out under standing sedation as this allows a thorough examination of the oral cavity using the correct tools and equipment and ensures safe, stress free and comfortable treatment of any abnormalities with either the hand floats or the motorised equipment. It is no longer acceptable to travel around with a couple of rasps in a bucket as more complex dental disease is being commonly recognised and treated in our equine patients.
The use of motorised equipment should NEVER be carried out without sedation, as the potential for damage to the soft tissue structures in the mouth is massive with a rotating burr at around 4000rpm.
The dental treatment should always be recorded on a dental chart to show what work has been carried out.
Here at Peter Fenton Equine Vets we have recently invested in brand new dental equipment in order to improve our dental service to our clients and make this treatment more affordable. This equipment is necessary to treat very large overgrown teeth and manage other problems like diastema (gaps) between teeth where food collects and rots causing painful gum disease. It can also be used to correct incisor alignment if this is causing a problem. These are things that it is very difficult or impossible to treat with hand floats. The new equipment includes a new motorised tool that has a clutch and immediately cuts out if any excess pressure is put on the burr, for example, trapped soft tissue or if jammed between the teeth of the horse to prevent any damage to the oral cavity. As a practice that is extremely pro-active in preventative healthcare we think this will improve the dentistry, oral comfort and therefore the welfare of the horses registered and treated by the practice. We also feel that this thorough dental examination should be standard across the profession.
As well as ensuring efficient chewing and digestion of your horse’s food, a balanced pain free mouth is essential for optimal ridden performance. Other diseases directly linked to poor dental health are weight loss, colic, sinus and tooth root infections and oral abscesses and ulceration. It is advisable to have your horse’s teeth checked once every 12 months and some horses may even require treatment every 6 months for specific problems.
Ignoring tooth and gum disease in the horse is not acceptable and this is something that can only be treated correctly and safely by using the correct equipment.
It is as important at this time of year as any to resolve any dental problems so that our horses are able to cope with high fibre diets over winter. After all there is no point spending vast amounts of money on feed if you horse cannot eat it properly.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Why don’t wild horses need their teeth checking?
Whilst wild horses are few and far between these days, the zebra being the only true wild relative, it is a commonly asked question.
The wild horse eats as nature intended, close to the ground with a slow leisurely chewing action. He eats sufficient to provide body weight and maintenance.
Whilst the sideways movement of the jaw will still cause sharp edges to the teeth, it is at a slower rate and to a much lesser degree.
The mechanics of the mouth are designed to work correctly and efficiently in this natural environment.
Why do we need our horse’s teeth checking?
We assume domesticated horses will eat as nature intended, but changes we introduce, such as environment, stress, diet, workload and tack all upset the natural balance.
It is because we interfere with nature and still expect the horse to perform at his best that a thorough examination of his dentition is required on a regular basis.
It is important that any problems are identified and rectified early.
Early intervention in a dental problem will not only be more beneficial to the horse, it will be more cost effective for you.
Preventing long-term damage will alleviate the need for prolonged and expensive treatments and promote the health and life expectancy of the horse.
Are horses’ teeth similar to humans?
No, far from it.
Human teeth, once grown, stay the same length for life.
Horses loose 24 ‘baby’ teeth before they are five years old and then have ‘permanent dentition.
Their teeth continually erupt from the gums until they are approximately 30 yrs old.
In theory, the teeth should wear down on the surface area at an equivalent rate of eruption, so that they remain a consistent visible length, along the whole row of teeth.
What causes the sharp edges?
In the horse, the lower jaw is narrower than the upper.
Therefore, as the horse’s jaw moves in a sideways action they do not fully over lap, consequently, the enamel edges of the teeth become elevated and sharp.
These can cause lacerations to the tongue and cheek lining.
When eating grass, the high water content makes it less abrasive and causes little wear.
Increased workloads and the subsequent introduction of hay and hard feeds again adds to the problem.
The added effort to grind these more abrasive feeds speeds up the sharpening process.
This problem is further exasperated by the horse’s natural urge to eat ‘bucket feeds’ more quickly, this shortens his grinding action and causing the sharp edges to form even faster.
Finally, the introduction of a bridle, with noseband and bit causes the soft tongue and cheek tissue to move against the sharp edges of the teeth, often causing pain and lacerations.
A bit-less bridle may remove the bit from the equation, but the underlying problems still exist.
What is the natural feeding position and why?
As previously mentioned, the horse feeds naturally at ground level.
When they eat from the ground their teeth align perfectly and wear evenly.
Front Cheek Teeth - Aligned
However, when they eat from hay nets their jaw is not in natural alignment. Some areas of the teeth are not worn down and continue to erupt resulting in dominant areas.
Cheek Teeth – Out of Alignment
Cheek Teeth - Develop Dominant Areas
Upper Jaw →
Lower Jaw →
The consequence of this is restricted movement, causing stiffness and discomfort in the jaw, joints and muscles of the head. The horse will suffer and may compensate in restricted body movements and poor performance.
Can the horse develop gum disease?
As the horse ages the continually erupting cheek teeth become narrower leaving small gaps in between each tooth.
This gap allows movement between the teeth and can lead to uneven wear patterns.
This is more prevalent in the mid-life/teenage horse.
Additionally, as the food collects and clogs the gaps, the subsequent bacteria that form will lead to gum disease and eventually, tooth loss.
Routinely maintaining the smoothness of the cheek teeth will assist food to pass freely and easily through the oral cavity, the improved hygiene will avert the onset of gum disease.
What are the signs of dental problems?
There are many signs of horse’s reaction to pain and discomfort as well as general health indicators.
Running Off = Pain and Discomfort
Quidding (Balling of hay in mouth.)
Long Fibres in droppings = Restricted chewing/uneven wear pattern.
Bad mouth odour or possible tooth loss.
Packing feed in cheeks
Does my horse need to be sedated for treatment?
Most horses will accept dental work whist unsedated.
However, there are some horses, which due to their temperament, or due to the type or the amount or work required, that will need sedating by the veterinary surgeon.
The vet will check that the horse is suitable for sedation
Sedation relaxes the horse and prevents stress and excitement, allowing work to be done more efficiently and humanely by the dental technician.
How do I know if the dental technician is competent?
Research based education has advanced equine dental healthcare in recent years in order to benefit the horse.
It is no longer a simple matter of removing a few sharp edges.
The benefit of a thorough evaluation and written report for each individual horse, identifying and correcting potential problems at an early stage, cannot be underestimated, in order to promote long-term dental health.
Equine Dental Practitioners are now required to possess skills and knowledge to a degree where they have a thorough knowledge of the science and anatomy of the whole horse, as well as practical knowledge and experience in using modern dental equipment and instrumentation.
There are two main things to check prior to employing a technician.
1. Is he/she qualified with an appropriate recognised body, e.g. B.E.V. A. or undergoing suitable training to reach that qualification?
2. Does he/she hold fully comprehensive insurance?
Insurance is extremely expensive and is only issued by a limited number of companies.
It is only given after proof of experience, training and qualifications.
Always ask the E.D.T. about these matters, prior to authorising any treatment on your horse.
For further information checkout the websites.
British Assoc of Equine Dental Technicians. http://www.baedt.com
or British Equine Veterinary Assoc. www.BEVA.org.uk