Franklin Vets Blog

Equine Dental Examinations – What to expect

October 17, 2019

Dental disease in horses was reported as early as the Romans but it wasn’t until recent times that a real focus on research into equine dentistry began. Much of this coincided with the increased availability of horse sedatives which allow us to get a detailed visual examination of the horse’s mouth without the need for an anaesthetic.

How we examine and treat horse’s mouths has evolved massively. Before speculums (AKA gags) were commonplace, palpation of the front cheek teeth was used to judge when teeth needed rasping. The tongue was often used to help open the mouth and assist with the feeling and rasping. We now know that forceful movement of the tongue can be damaging to the delicate structures at the back of horses’ mouths and this technique should not be used.equine dental close up using mirrors and light

Speculums allow palpation of all the teeth to identify overgrowth, (even at the back of the mouth) and make placement of dental instruments for effective treatment much easier too. When a horse has a painful mouth, it may resent operating instruments, so sedation is regularly used to relax the horse and allow safe, thorough floating.

Note that sedation can make a horse less responsive to any damage caused during floating (a problem we were not aware could exist several decades ago) and it is vital any dental practitioner working in the mouth is aware of how to spot if too much tooth has been removed and take appropriate action to prevent pain and infection resulting from accidental damage. This is why vets performing dentistry use intra-oral lighting, dental mirrors, and head restraint as it makes a visual check of the dental surfaces possible at all times, which also allows for early dental disease to be found and treated before it becomes severe.

Your horses should receive a veterinary dental examination at least annually.

Ensure this includes sedation and head-restraint, intra-oral lighting, use of mirrors and probes to visually examine the mouth thoroughly (as our dentists do at our annual check-ups), and palpation of the teeth as standard. The exam should be treated as importantly as the floating itself so subtle disease isn’t missed at a treatable point and a record of this should be made with a plan for future treatment.

horse crush for equine dental

Our horse crush set up & in action for an equine dental examination

Dr Katie Kindleysides BVSc CertAVP Equine Dentistry