"How often does my horse need to have its teeth done ? My vet says every year."
Modern studies have shown that ALL horses, ridden or not, will benefit from REGULAR dental inspections. All foals should be examined in the first week of life to see if there are any obvious congentital defects e.g. "Parrot mouth" or "sow mouth", both of which are hereditory and can be sucessfully rectified providing they are detected early enough. Then from the age of eighteen months onwards it will be nessecary to examine and in the vast majority of cases, conduct some form of treatment TWICE YEARLY. This frequency is a good "rule of thumb" for preventing any health (even if your horse is not ridden it will still need dental examination) and performance problems.
When your horse has had, proper, thorough dentistry, he will become accustomed to a much higher level of comfort and he will let you know when things are begining to bother him again......and if you know your horse well enough and can recognise what he is trying to convey to you this will become your basis on which to judge the frequency of dental care.
The need for dentistry in domestic horses arises from the way they are kept and managed. If you keep these things as natural as is possible you can minimise the need for extra help. The more you deviate from the "norm", the more frequently you need to "interfere with nature". With this in mind, if your horse is allowed to forage and graze 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, then once an initial examination and any necessary corrective treatment has been done, and provided there are no specific problems, your horse may only require once yearly exam and treatment. Where your equine management regime differs from this and if your horse spends more than 4-5 hours per day eating hay or other food, it will require exam and treatment Twice Yearly.
It is not uncommon for some practitioners to tell you that your horse only needs to be examined and treated once a year or even more infrequently simply because they cant be bothered or are too busy to visit you more often.....or if the horse is "difficult" to treat, it is likely they wont want to visit more regularly.
Horses at the older end of the spectrum (16yrs and up) will certainly require more frequent dental care due to age related problems.
Can I do anything to make my horse go longer before he needs his teeth "doing"?
Although you cannot alter the structure or composition of teeth, there are things which you can do to ensure that the horse uses his teeth more naturally, e.g. the teeth fuction in a way as closes is as possible to that for which they have evolved. You can ensure that horses eat as much as possible from the ground, or as close to ground level as they can, e.g. avoid feeding hay from haynets suspended above ground level. Feed from the floor or from a corner manger at floor level (try the new "haybar" or construct one yourself if you are good at DIY). Make sure the bulk of your horses diet is made up from good quality course forage to encourage full movement of travel of the lower jaw when he chews. Cereal based feeds encourage a "lazy" or "short cycle" chewing pattern and the sharp enamel points will return sooner once removed. Try to ensure that your horse can graze on grass for as longer periods as possible. The more time confined to a stable eating hay or haylage, the more un-natural wear he will put on his teeth. In comparison, chewing a mouthfull of grass is for us, like chewing a mouthfull of baked beans, i.e. not much force is required and not much tooth material is abraded. However, chewing a mouthfull of hay (and to a lesser extent, haylage) is like us chewing on a very over-cooked steak, i.e. it requires a lot more force in the bite to break it down and consequently more tooth material is abraded or worn away as tooth grinds against tooth.
Do horses get any of the dental problems we get? For example do they need fillings?
Yes, horses teeth consist of the same three components as human teeth, (dentine, cementum & enamel) and as a consequence they can suffer from the same dental pathology. On the whole, because horses have a different tooth system to humans and because they use their teeth far far more than we do, the majority of dental problems in equine teeth are due to iregularities of wear (tooth against tooth). Horses also suffer from inflamation and disease of the gums as humans do.
Many treatments developed in animal dentistry have evolved from advancements in human dentistry. Horses teeth suffer from decay (dental caries or infundibular necrosis) and this can lead to abcess and root infection. There are a small number of equine dental practitioners ( I trained with one of the leading providers of this treatment and have performed the treatment myself and have the necessary instrumentation) who are able to do "fillings" and other restorative treatments. I have also undertaken several sucessfull periodontal treatments on horses with varying degrees of "gum disease". However, the equipment nescessary for this advanced treatment is hugely expensive and beside myself, there are only one or two other practitioners in the whole of the UK with the necessary training and skill and equipment. Other advancements in equine dental treatment includes "root canal therapy" on horses. This is a surgical proceedure and may only be performed by a Veterinary Surgeon. One thing that has not yet become possible is the provision of "False teeth" for horses.....but hey!....we live in an ever advancing age, so WATCH THIS SPACE.
Does it hurt the horse when having its teeth rasped?
In general, using hand held tooth rasps to carry out "routine" equine dental work should not be a a painful procedure. Equine teeth have different enervation to human teeth and in horses teeth, the sensitive nerve tissue which triggers a pain response is much more protected in "normal" or healthy teeth. Providing the practitioner is skilled in correct placement and use of the rasp and is removing "tooth material" and not rasping gum, or other soft tissue, the horse should feel no pain....A horse recieving "routine2 dental care should certainly never bleed as a result of the process.
However, in my experience, treatment becomes increasingly uncomfortable in horses which have not received regular TWICE YEARLY treatments in the past. Sharp enamel points on teeth can cause painful cuts and ulcerated areas on the cheeks and soft tissues of the mouth. When trying to place a "rasp"between the edge of the teeth and these damaged tissue areas the horse suffers discomfort. I have developed my technique and skills to minimise this discomfort and have collated specific equipment which is designed to cause minimum discomfort in such cases. Through good horsemanship and communication skills, it is possible to help most horses and carry out a more thorough treatment.
A thorough examination of the head and neck of the horse gives me an indication of the level of discomfort a horse may feel before treatment is attempted, e.g. if he is sore around his tempera-mandibular joint he may not be comfortable having his mouth held open as far as other horses or for as long a period....or if he has problems in and around his poll / atlas area, he may not be comfortable with holding his head in a certain position. The horse will give you this information.....sadly not everyone can read it.
See the "treatment" page of this site for more of what is involved.
My Vet (or dentist) always has my horse sedated to do his /her teeth. Do you need horses to be sedated?
I ALWAYS prefer to try to avoid the use of sedation wherever possible. Whilst my ultimate considerations are safety and welfare I have built a reputation over several years of being able to carry out ROUTINE (where all that is required is the use of hand operated dental equipment) dental treatment without having even the most "difficult" or "nervous" of horses sedated. I have found that in the vast majority of such cases, is not so much as "what is being done" but rather than "who is doing it and how it''s being done". I have studied "natural horsemanship" and the techniques I have learned help me during the time I spend with my equine patients........ to help me to help them.
I always prefer to work on a "try it without" basis first.
For more of my views on this issue, see the "treatment" page on this site.
To me, sedation is an instrument, as important as any other as a means to assist with a given task. (there are certain treatments which will always require the horse to be sedated and i will not avoid its use in these instances). I do not, however, consider the use of sedation (chemical RESTRAINT) as a "short cut" and never use it as a substitute for sound, effective horsemanship.
What are "bit seats"? Does my horse need them? I''ve heard they shouldn''t be done because they damage the teeth. Is this true?
The term "bit seat" refers to a procedure carried out to the first cheek teeth (pre-molars) to minimise damage to the cheeks and flesh around the inner surfaces of the commisures of the lips (corners of the mouth) of some horses when being ridden with a bit.
When undertaken by a skilled, competent and knowlegable practitioner it does not cause any damage or harm to the teeth involved. There are different types of "bit seat" to minimise discomfort from different bits. Basically, the front and sides of the teeth (both sides, upper and lower) are rounded off to prevent the accumulation of cheek and lip tissue, created when the bit is brawn rearward, from being chewed and pinched between the tooth and the bit....in effect creating a cushion or "seat" for the bit to rest against without causing discomfort and therefore creating "resistance".
All horses which are ridden in a bit will benifit to varying degrees from the installation of "bitseats". In particular horse competing in dressage and particularly those at levels where the use of a double bridle is required, as the addition of an "extra" bit creates extra pressure on the soft tissues at the corners of the mouth.
Bitseating will NOT prevent cracking or splitting of the skin in the corners of the mouth on the outside as is sometimes seen on some horses. The maximum relief from "bitseats" occurs on the inner surfaces of the cheeks and lips. And of course......it is not usually the bit which creates pain and discomfort to a horse.....its the hands attatched to it via reins.
Bitseating can be carried out using hand instruments or by power instruments. If the latter is chosen then the horse should be sedated as it is an intricate procedure.
"Why dont wild horses need dentistry"?
Wild horses DO get dental problems. However, studies have shown that, in comparison, the more common dental problems encountered in domestic horses are, when present, generally less frequent, and / or less severe in wild horses. However, dental developmental problems occur in all horses and it is probably fair to say that they may be more prevalent in domestic horses (or it may be that they are simply discovered easier in domestic horses). One factor influencing such findings may be that if particular wild horses have genes for poor teeth then such horses will probably die at a younger age as a direct or inderect result of such problems and not pass on the genes for dental problems so frequently. If severe dental problems persist in wild horses, nobody notices them, they do not get treated, the animal simply cannot eat properly and ..............the poor horses die. Nature''s law.
A large percentage of dental problems in domestic horses occur from irregularities in wear of the teeth during chewing and as the horses'' teeth hav''nt changed since they have evolved, but domestic horses diets have changed considerably, it can be argued that the way domestic horses are kept and fed is responsible for the vast majority of the more common dental problems encountered. (see the "need for dentistry" page of this site for more on this issue)
Then, of course, there is the issue of performance demands on domestic horses. Whilst the foremost concern should be the "health" aspect of dentistry, i.e. making sure the teeth are functional and that the horse can chew and prepare its food effectively, other dental proceedeurs are carried out to aid the horse and provide comfort during performance tasks and some problems manifest themselves during such tasks and can be identified easier. The wild horse does not have these demands placed on it and may, therefore find it easier to cope with such problems.
Do all wolf teeth need to be removed?
The answer would be, no, not all. Wolf teeth are "non funtional" teeth. They do not all cause a problem. Depending on their location, normality of development and eruption, size and how they may affect the horse given its particular performance demands, wolf teeth may be best being removed. Whilst this is an invasive procedure and deemed as "minor surgery", it is, to a PROPERLY TRAINED & QUALIFIED practitioner a relatively simple proceedure. Having said that the horse will require to be sedated and may need local anaesthesia which can only be administered by a Vet.
Wolf teeth, their removal and to what extent they cause a problem to the horse with them, remains a subject very much in debate and some still consider that "the jury is still out on this one". In my PERSONAL OPINION, which is based on many years experience and feed back from many clients, the extraction of wolf teeth in a horse which is destined to be ridden, driven or carry out any task in which a bit is part of the tack the horse will wear, is a "proactive" proceedure which will aviod performance problems in a large number of horses, i.e, because the capability and surity of any rider that the horse may be riden by cannot be assured.
Blind wolf teeth (those which have not erupted...and in the vast majority of cases, will not erupt) are very un-comfortable for a "bitted" horse and the general concensus is that they should be extracted. However, this is a more complicated invasive proceedure and should ONLY be carried out by QUALIFIED practitioners on the sedated horse.
I have seen wolf teeth displaying signs of wear and erosion which could ONLY be attributed to contact with the bit and also many cases of wolf teeth which have fractured either above, at or below gum level and which upon touching caused the horse great discomfort.
Do you use power tools or hand tools? Ive heard that power tools damage horses teeth, is this true?
I possess a huge and comprehensive inventory of equine dental instruments consisting of upto date modern power driven instruments and various hand held / operated instruments. They are all individually necessary to perform a whole range of specific tasks and dental treatments and proceedures.
I prefer to use hand operated instruments, wherever possible, for undertaking "routine" treatments. Power operated instrumentation was originally developed to assist with "specific" treatments, usually where the removal of large dental overgrowths or to shape or sculpt misshapen individual teeth or major wear iregularities....e.g. bite realignmemnt work etc and this is mainly where I use power dental instruments.
The newer power instruments have proved very popular with some practitioners due to the fact that they are "easier on the operator", e.g. less muscle power is required to use them. Repetative strain injury is very common in equine dental practitioners and anything which eases or eliminates such a problem will always find favour amongst users.
However, it is possible for highly trained, experienced and competant practitioners to carry out an exceptionally high standard of routine and minor corrective treatment using an array of high quality floats (rasps). I would be wary of anyone wanting to carrying out treatments without hand held instruments and using only power driven for every horse.
Hand held instruments suit my style of working (e.g. they allow me to move more freely according to wherever the horse wants to be in order to cope best) without compromising the standard of treatment I provide. Power instruments limit the operator to a power supply (although there is battery operated equipment available) and usually means the horse being more restricted and requiring more restraint which, for safety sake, in many cases includes being sedated.
It is alleged that the use of power dental equipment can damage teeth, usually thermal trauma (heat damage). My view of this is the same as "if you are ironing your shirt and you leave the iron in one place you will burn a hole in your shirt"...e.g. it is the operator, not the equipment. Some practitioners (vet and non -vet) who are using power operated equine dental equipment are NOT suffciently trained, competant and experienced in its effective and non harmfull use. Power instrumentation in the right hands in the right circumstances, is no more harmfull than any other.
Sadly, whilst most equine dental practitioners regard power equpment as "essential for the purpose for which it was designed" there are practitioners who purchase this type of instrumentation (£1000''s worth) and feel that it is only justifyable expense if they use it on every horse to recuperate the outlay.