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Equine Dentistry

Client education series


Why is dental care important?

Ø        To maintain a healthy, pain free mouth and prevent periodontal disease - severe gum disease that causes destruction of structures that hold teeth in place which can result in infection and tooth loss.

Ø        Horses’ teeth continue to erupt throughout life and their natural chewing pattern can cause sharp edges to form which can cause trauma, ulcers and pain.

Ø        To identify and treat any abnormalities or trauma such as a jaw fracture which may badly affect normal chewing and tooth wear

Ø        To prevent poor condition and weight loss which can occur if the horse is unable to chew and digest food properly or if pain stops him from eating.

Ø        To prevent performance problems such resistance to the bit, head tossing or rearing which can occur due to a painful mouth

Ø        Regular check ups help early identification of problems, therefore avoiding something more serious.


Signs that your horse may need dental treatment:

Ø      Dropping food out of the mouth - this is known as quidding

Ø       Performance issues such as head tossing, problems taking up a contact with the bit or resistance, frequent opening of the mouth, rearing, unexplained lameness

Ø       Swellings and/or heat of the face or jaw

Ø       Unusual swellings or growths on the gums

Ø       Drooling

Ø       Bad breath (halitosis)

Ø       Nasal discharge

Ø       Abnormal chewing patterns

Ø       Poor condition or weight loss

Ø       Undigested feed in faeces

Ø       Not wanting to eat or eating more slowly than usual

Ø       Colic and/or choking


Common Problems

Young horses:

1.          Extra (supernumerary) teeth - often abnormally shaped or seen as a ‘double’ tooth which can cause periodontal disease, malocclusions (upper and lower teeth don’t  make contact properly), overgrowth and potentially inflammation of the sinuses. Regular assessment is required and usually extraction is performed

2.          Wolf teeth - small teeth which erupt between 6-18months old but can remain in the gum. They can come into contact with the bit causing discomfort, it is therefore common practice to remove them in young horses (less than 3 years)

3.          Parrot mouth - the upper jaw extends past the lower causing an overbite. Incisors can become overgrown and require regular rasping

4.          Sow mouth - lower jaw extends past the upper. It is less common but is also managed with rasping

5.          Dental impactions - teeth cannot erupt due to position of other cheek teeth

6.          Retained dental caps - remnants of baby teeth can cause temporary quidding; or should be removed as they can cause trauma if displaced.

7.          Malocclusion - occurs with incisors and cheek teeth, causes difficulty grasping and chewing food, abnormal wear and unnatural chewing patterns, spaces between teeth which become packed with food and secondary periodontal disease

8.          Sharp points and hooks

9.          Plaque

10.       Fractured teeth


Older horses may suffer any of these problems but also have greater risk of developing loose teeth, spaces which trap food, gum disease and fractured teeth (as the teeth have little reserve within the gum. Angular malocclusions such as hooks, ramps, shear or step mouth (due to tooth loss) are also common.Benefits of regular dental care

Ø       Better health –properly chewed food increases nutrient consumption and leads to higher energy uptake and improved body condition.

Ø       Improved cost-benefit of feed - feed less to achieve the right body weight

Ø       Improved performance - a pain free mouth will make your horse more responsive and focused when ridden

Ø       Reduced risk of colic and choke - if your horse has trouble chewing food, the food particles swallowed are larger and more prone cause choking or further blockage to the digestive tract. Maintaining healthy teeth helps your horse grind the food properly

Ø       Cost effective - regular dental care should mean that your horse only requires a basic check up to keep the mouth healthy. It will also ensure that your vet identifies problems early and starts to manage them before more extensive and expensive treatment is required. Prevention is better than cure!


When should your horse have a dental assessment?

Ø        At a foal health check - identify and treat abnormalities early to prevent serious issues later

Ø         3 years old when permanent teeth start to erupt

Ø         By 6 years old adult teeth should be present and in use. If there are no abnormalities or signs of dental disease teeth should be checked once a year

Ø         More frequent checks are required for older horses with conformational abnormalities, trauma or warning signs of dental problems

Ø         Newly purchased horse


Services by Dubbo Equine Hospital:

Medical Care

Surgical procedures

-          Abdominal/gastrointestinal surgery

-          Arthroscopic surgery

-          Castration, incl. rig surgery

-          Dental procedures

-          Eye surgery

-          Foal surgery, incl. limb deformities

-          Foot and orthopaedic surgery

-          Reproductive surgery

-          Respiratory surgery

-          Soft tissue surgery

-          Tendon, ligament and wound surgery


-          Radiology – digital radiography equipment

-          Ultrasonography – new digital high definition ultrasound

Artificial breeding Procedures

-          AI

-          Embryo transfer

-          Semen collection

-          Foetal sex determination