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Why does your horse need to see a dentist?

checking the vital signs with Scottie showing his missing teeth

Just like humans, horses need to see a dentist regularly and it is often one of the first things you check if your horse suddenly starts having problems. But why do horses need to see a dentist, how often and who is best to do the job? 

Constant Growth 

Within just a few days after birth, a horse’s teeth start growing. These teeth will then continue to grow for most of their life. Horses wear their teeth down while eating, often compared to two millstones grinding against each other while chewing food. This stops their teeth from growing too long. 

Unfortunately, horses don’t have perfectly symmetrical mouths. So over time many horses develop sharp edges or uneven wear due to that area of the tooth not grinding against the other teeth to naturally wear down. These sharp edges can be painful, rubbing against the horse’s cheek or tongue and can ulcer over time.  

Not only can this cause pain, but it can also stop the horse working correctly in the bridle and can even stop them eating and drinking. Some research suggests that tooth problems are one of the main causes of starvation in wild/feral horse populations.

Horses with missing or permanently damaged teeth often need extra care as the surrounding teeth continue to grow and with nothing to grind against can rub against other parts of the horse’s mouth, such as their gums. 

What do dentists do? 

Most of the time, the dentist will check the horse’s mouth for any major issues and rasp down any sharp edges. If you use the same person each time, they will keep records of each visit. So any major changes in how your horse is wearing down their teeth should get picked up and could be used to identify a problem elsewhere.  

Dentists may also remove wolf teeth in young horses before they start work. Wolf teeth are small canine type teeth just in front of the premolars and can cause problem to a horse wearing a bit. Many young horses have them removed routinely before starting work. 

How often should my horse see a dentist? 

Young horses should see the dentist every 6 months. This is because their teeth are softer and can create sharp edges quicker. For an adult horse, once a year is usually just right. But obviously if your horse has any other problems, or if you think there might be something wrong you should get them out more often. 

Who should I use to do my horses teeth? 

For as long as I can remember there has been a big debate as to who is best to do your horse’s teeth, a vet or an equine dentist. I think a lot of this is down to personal preference, but there are a few things to bare in mind. 

Not all vets are good at doing teeth. 

All vets would have had some training in doing teeth but some of them don’t do it very often and might not be very good. Most vet practices will usually have 1 or 2 vets who do the dentistry as they are the ones who do it more regularly and perhaps have more training. 

Dentists can’t sedate. 

Equine dentists have trained specifically for the job. But they are not allowed to sedate horses before working on them. While many dentists do a good job, many vets say it is very difficult to do a good job and getting at the molars at the back without sedating the horse first. So while they might have a better idea of what they are doing, they might struggle to get to all the teeth. 

Best of both worlds. 

Some people therefore do a bit of both. They have the vet out to sedate the horse for the dentist to do the work. But then of course you also have to pay double the callout fee. 

Last Updated on 25/08/2020

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