When is the best time to take your horse to the dentist? Before tooth-hurty.
Does my horse really need to see a dentist?
In short, yes.
There have been many changes to horses’ lives that effect their teeth throughout the process of domestication, such as changes in diet, and selective breeding without dental considerations. This means there is a lot of room for things to go wrong. Animals of prey, such as horses, tend to not show signs of injury until it becomes so severe that they cannot help it. Even if your horse does not have a history of dental problems, they should have their teeth examined annually by an Equine Dentist, which is a veterinarian who specializes in dentistry.
What is involved in a dentist appointment for a Horse?
The Equine Dentist will want to perform an external examination of your horse. In this portion, your horse may or may not be sedated, since this mostly involves examining your horse while they eat, searching for any lumps in your horse’s jaw, smelling for odors coming from the nose and mouth, and looking for any signs of pain, such as palpitating muscles around the jaw or mouth.
An Equine Dentist will likely need to sedate your horse for internal examinations, where the dentist will use special tools to examine the back of the horse’s mouth. As you can probably imagine, horses do not like this, and may throw their head, which can make this process dangerous for the Veterinarian. This part of the examination involves evaluating where the teeth make contact with other parts of the mouth and other teeth, rinsing the mouth for feed particles, looking at the cheeks and tongue for signs of injury, examining the gumline, any spaces between teeth, looking for loose teeth, and for signs of disease, cavities, abnormalities or damage.
What does the sedation process look like for a dental examination?
The sedation process can vary a little depending on the cooperation of the animal, but in any case, the horse will still be fully conscious, and will receive just enough medicine to make them calm. It is important to note that this means the horse could still be startled and become excited, so if possible, it is best to keep the horse in a controlled environment where they are not around other animals, such as a stall.
The drugs often used for sedation are called alpha-2 agonists, such as detomodine, xylazine, and romifidine. Sedation can be a dangerous process and therefore requires Veterinary Administration, or the direct supervision of a Veterinarian.
If your horse is naturally calm, the Veterinarian will likely be able to inject your horse directly into its jugular vein, which will cause the horse to be calm and compliant for about thirty minutes. If your horse is wild, and naturally excited, the Veterinarian will likely not be able to safely inject the vein, and will therefore need to sedate the horse through muscle tissue that they can reach. In order for this type of sedation to be successful, it require a much higher dosage, which will cause the horse to be drowsy for much longer.
What might the dentist find?
The following problems are fairly common and should be addressed by a Dentist:
- Sharp enamel, which can cut the horses cheeks when they chew
- Hooks forming among the teeth
- Baby teeth that do not entirely shed
- Lost teeth, or broken teeth
- Abnormally long teeth (this is more common in horses that eat feed on a schedule, instead of grazing grass continuously and freely)
- Periodontal (gum) disease
- And more
Remember, your horse might not give any signs that they’re experiencing dental discomfort until it becomes severe, so it is best to include dentist appointments as part of your horse’s regular, preventative care.
Leste-Lasserre, Christa. (2020, February 19). Open Up and Say Zzz: Why Horse Dental Exams Require Sedation. The Horse. https://thehorse.com/184971/open-up-and-say-zzz-why-horse-dental-exams-require-sedation/
The Importance of Maintaining the Health of Your Horse’s Mouth. (n.d.). American Association of Equine Practitioners. Retrieved December 27, 2021 from https://aaep.org/horsehealth/importance-maintaining-health-your-horses-mouth
Oral Exams. (2020, February 25). Starwood Equine Veterinary Services. Retrieved December 27, 2021 from https://www.starwoodequine.com/blog/oral-exams
UT Institute of Agriculture, Veterinary Medical Center (n.d.). Equine Oral Exam. Vetmed.tennessee.edu https://vetmed.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/UTCVM_EquineOralExam.pdf