Why is it important for my horse to have regular dental examinations?
A horses lower jaw is narrower than their upper jaw so as the horse grinds its food, the outside of the upper molars and the inside of the lower molars are not worn and can become very sharp. There sharp enamel points can lead to ulceration in the cheeks and tongue, leading to oral discomfort when eating and when ridden. If these are not treated, they can lead to more serious dental conditions. A thorough oral examination performed by a veterinarian allows dental problems to be identified while they are still in the early stages, decreasing the possibility of more severe dental conditions which may lead to other serious health issues for your horse.
How often should a horse receive a dental exam?
As a minimum, all horses should receive an annual dental examination. Young horses may require more frequent dental examinations, as there are an extraordinary amount of dental changes which occur during this time of their lives. If complex problems are found in any horse during the examination, some may require multiple treatments to correct the abnormality without damaging the teeth. This may require more frequent visits. Senior horses (20 years of age or older) have an increased risk of developing periodontal disease and face the additional challenges of advancing age. Twice a year examinations are often required to keep the teeth of senior horses functioning correctly, as they enter their third and fourth decade of life.
How will I know if my horse has a dental problem?
Some common signs of oral discomfort include dropping feed from the mouth while eating , fighting the bit, avoiding contact of the bit when ridden, or a foul odor coming from the mouth or nostrils. Horses may also show signs such as eating slowly or not eating at all, weight loss or avoiding certain types of food. However it is important to remember that horses are a prey species and generally will not show a weakness until it is avoidable. Equine veterinarians skilled in dentistry are constantly amazed at how much discomfort horses endure without showing any outward signs to their owners. By the time many owners notice a problem, the issues inside the mouth are often severe.
Why is it important for an equine veterinarian to perform dental work on a horse?
Only a veterinarian has the medical, anatomical and physiological knowledge to diagnose and treat dental problems and to understand the effects that dental problems can have on the overall health of your horse. Veterinarians are the only people who can legally sedate your horse, provide adequate pain relief during potentially painful procedures (such as extractions) and to treat any concurrent medical conditions that may be affecting the horse. Veterinarians are able to assess the overall health of your horse before they sedate or medicate to ensure that the medications given are the safest and most appropriate for your horse.
To complete a thorough oral exam, sedation is essential. It allows all structures to be examined properly and allows the horse (and owners!) to relax. It also provides pain relief if painful procedures, such as extractions, are performed. Once sedated, the veterinarian can then perform a thorough exam, including examination of the chewing muscles, bones in the skull, salivary glands and lymph nodes, as well as the range of jaw movement. The nostrils are alos checked for discharge and the forehead may be tapped to check fluid in the sinuses. The inside of the mouth can be examined by both palpation, feeling for any abnormalities and by closely examining the structures with a powerful light. All findings are recorded on a dental chart and if further diagnostic tests are required such as x-rays or blood tests, then your veterinarian can also perform these. A veterinarian also understands the importance of biosecurity and is trained in how to prevent the spread of infectious disease between horses and properties.