Premises - Frame Swift and Partners, The Veterinary Centre, Penrith
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Frame, Swift and Partners
The Veterinary Centre, Carleton, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 8TZ
T: 01768 862454
F: 01768 867163
Delivering excellence in veterinary care throughout Cumbria
Equine Dentistry
Equine dentistry used to be a fairly neglected part of veterinary work. There was an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” to equine teeth. If the patient wasn’t either losing weight or dropping food it was assumed that there were no problems. Fortunately there have been enormous advances in equine dentistry over the past 15-20 years and it is now known that such assumptions are extremely misplaced.

Equine teeth have evolved with complex anatomy that provides an effective grinding surface for chewing rough forage. The down side of this is that sharp edges can develop on the teeth which may damage the soft tissues of the cheeks and tongue. Horses can be very stoical and sometimes severe oral lesions can be found in animals that appear to eating normally.

Image of a healthy mouth showing normal ridges and grinding surfaces of the upper teeth

The practice has a full range of manual and motorised equine dental instruments, head support, x-ray facilities and stocks to enable us to evaluate and treat a wide range of dental diseases. Some frequently asked questions and details of common conditions are outlined below. If you have any queries about dentistry please give the surgery a call. Vets Sam Galloway and Lynn Veitch have a particular interest in equine dentistry.

Commonly asked questions

How often should my horse’s teeth be checked?
As a general rule, if there are no underlying problems, a dental examination once a year is fine. Some patients require routine rasping more often.  If there seems to be excessive growth at the yearly check we may advise a check-up after six months. For those animals that have underlying dental disease more regular treatment may be needed.

What are the signs of dental disease?
It is vital to remember that sometimes there are no signs despite advanced dental disease, hence the need for routine examinations. For those cases that do show outward signs of disease, dropping balls of half-chewed food (known as “quidding”) is the most common. Sometimes patients may appear slow to chew or roll food around the mouth and make slurping noises when eating before they actually start to drop food. Halitosis from either the mouth or nose can also be associated with dental disease. In more severe cases swellings on the jaw or side of the face and nasal discharge may be apparent. Dental disease can lead to weight loss, but it is generally only with severe oral abnormalities that this occurs.

Will my horse need sedation for a dental examination?
It is impossible to carry out a full oral examination without using a gag to hold the mouth open. Some horses and ponies tolerate the gag well but others aren’t as relaxed about it. For those that find it more stressful we use sedation for the horse’s welfare and safety and so that a thorough examination can be completed. For patients that need longer dental procedures or the use of motorised equipment we nearly always use sedation. Modern sedatives are both effective and safe. Their use greatly enhances the precision of dental work and reduces the risk pain and stress for the horse.

Procedures commonly performed at The Veterinary Centre

Routine rasping

The majority of dental examinations simply reveal the need for rasping of sharp points on the edge of the teeth. These are caused by overgrowth of the enamel and if left untreated may lead to ulcers on the cheek or tongue.

Ulceration of the cheek caused by sharp enamel points

Reduction of dental overgrowths

In the normal mouth upper and lower teeth are aligned so that they wear the opposing teeth evenly. If teeth are not aligned correctly, for example in overshot or undershot mouths or if a tooth is missing, the part of the tooth not being worn down will become overgrown. In extreme cases the overgrowth may cut into the opposing jaw. Overgrown teeth are usually reduced in stages using a motorised burr.

Severely overgrown tooth in an old pony

Treatment of dental diastema

A diastema is a gap between the teeth. Horses’ teeth should be tightly packed together which prevents food material becoming entrapped between the teeth. Sometimes small spaces occur which results in food getting wedged into the space between the teeth. Eventually it may lead to infection of the gum and in severe cases it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of the tooth. A diastema packed with food causing gum infection is an extremely painful condition and can have severe effects on the horse’s welfare (and performance for athletic animals). Treatment is usually through clearing the space of food and widening the space with a specialised cone shaped burr. By widening the space the food is less likely to get trapped in place between the teeth.

Dental Extraction

Dental extractions are usually performed under standing sedation and local anaesthetic. This removes the risk of general anaesthesia and usually results in faster recovery. Fortunately most horses go through life without requiring extractions, but for those that do the reasons include dental infections, displacement of the tooth, fracture of the tooth and treatment of diastema. As the horse ages the tooth erupts and the length of tooth attached to the gum shortens. In some very old horses and ponies there is insufficient tooth attached to hold it firmly in place in which case it may be more comfortable for the tooth to be extracted.