It’s almost certainly an old wive’s tale that ‘only old horses need dental attention’ when in fact the majority of younger horses (3-4 years old and upwards) benefit greatly from simple dental procedures. After all the greatest ‘activity’ within the horses’ jaw is occurring between birth and five years of age, associated with the eruption and shedding of teeth, introduction of a bit and several changes in nutrition during that time!
Racehorses that embark on a training career for flat racing receive dental attention as young as 18 months of age and apart from the physical benefit of this, if done correctly and with ‘T L C’, it is likely to lead to a much more tolerant animal when it comes to dental procedures later on in life.
We therefore recommend that as soon as young horses are about to embark on a ridden/driven lifestyle a dental check should be carried out preferably by your veterinary surgeon who is in a position to remove any unwanted teeth at that time (i.e. wolf teeth, retained ‘baby teeth’, front or back) as well as ‘rasping smooth’ all relevant sharp edges.
Advice at that time, depending upon the state of the mouth, jaw alignment etc., will be given as to the need for once or twice yearly dental check-ups. The majority of horses between the ages of 6 and 16 only require once yearly attention and there is a school of thought that ‘over-rasping’ of teeth can be nearly as detrimental as infrequent rasping.
Equine dentistry has advanced significantly over the past few years and is now thought of as much more than simply rasping a horse’s teeth. The dental examination is now as highly regarded as the actual treatment. Horse’s mouths are very large so, in order to examine the surface of all the teeth, we need to use a dental mirror and a dental pick.
Dental picks are sharp, pointy instruments which are used to assess the surface of a horse’s teeth to make sure there are no signs of caries lesions. For this reason, we often sedate horses for dentals to ensure a thorough examination of the mouth is able to be undertaken safely.
As a practice, we support equine dental technicians (EDT) who have trained and passed a DEFRA approved examination e.g. BAEDT (British Association of Equine Dental Technicians).
Equine dental technicians who have trained and passed a DEFRA approved examination are allowed to perform Category 1 and Category 2 procedures only.
We are lucky to have a number of brilliant dental technicians in our area who understand when referral to a veterinary surgeon is required.
If you have chosen to use a dental technician who has not trained and passed a DEFRA approved examination, they are only allowed to carry out Category 1 procedures by law.
It is very important that you ask your equine dental technician which exams they have passed BEFORE they get to the yard to treat your horse. This way, you know what treatment your horse will be receiving.
Category 1 Procedures – Procedures which an individual can perform after recognised training but without specific attainment of qualifications.
- Examination of teeth;
- Removal of sharp enamel points using manual rasps only;
- Removal of small dental overgrowths (maximum 4mm reductions) using manual rasps only;
- Rostral profiling of the first cheek teeth (maximum 4mm reductions), previously termed ‘bit seat shaping’;
- Removal of loose deciduous caps; and
- Removal of supragingival calculus.
Category 2 Procedures – Additional procedures suitable for delegation to an EDT who has trained and passed an examination approved by DEFRA:
- Examination, evaluation and recording of dental abnormalities;
- The removal of loose teeth or dental fragments with no periodontal attachments which are digitally extractable without the use of instruments;
- The removal of erupted, non-displaced wolf teeth in the upper or lower jaw under direct and continuous veterinary supervision;
- Palliative rasping of fractured and adjacent teeth; and
- The use of motorised dental instruments where these are used to reduce overgrowths and remove sharp enamel points only, in horses sedated appropriately.
On occasions, the attendant equine dental technician may request a visit from the veterinary surgeon in order to sedate the horse so they can safely carry out category one or two procedures. This will mean that instead of paying for a veterinary call out, veterinary dental and a sedation fee, you will be paying an equine dental technician fee, a veterinary call out fee, veterinary attendance time, plus a sedation fee. This will make the dental procedure far less cost effective than simply getting the veterinarian to carry out the dental.
One way of keeping this type of cost to a minimum is requesting that your veterinary surgeon carries out a dental check on the same visit as your horses’ annual or 6 monthly vaccination.