It is often recommended to have your horse’s teeth checked at least once a year by an equine dentist or dental worker. You may wonder why this is necessary, since horses in nature also manage without a dental worker. Our domestic horses often no longer lead the kind of natural life as horses in the wild would. They are therefore more likely to need ‘domesticated’ help from us, like the farrier. In this article we explain why dental care is important and what you should pay attention to.
The teeth are an important part of the horse’s digestive system. With its incisors, the horse can cut off the food and with the molars it is ground into small pieces. A horse’s molars gradually wear down with eating. This is no problem at all, because the horse’s molars of a horse are high-crowned, which means that they grow continually, as it were. In nature, this generally presents no problems. The diet and eating position of the horses ensure that the molars wear evenly and the teeth remain healthy. The conditions for our domestic horses are usually a bit different than those of horses in the wild. By feeding hay and concentrates, our horses make fewer and smaller chewing movements. In addition, they often eat in a different position, because food bowls and hay nets are placed above the ground level. This can cause molars to wear unevenly and create hooks that are painful for the horse.
In addition to hooks, a horse can also develop other problems with its teeth. Young horses may experience discomfort from changing teeth, causing ‘caps’. Older horses can, for example, have increased spaces between their teeth due to age (diastasis) or their teeth may become loose. But a horse can also have congenital dental defects that cause problems. You can recognize a dental problem by (one of) the following symptoms:
- Dropping concentrates and / or making balls or wads of roughage
- Smelly breath
- Tilting the head while eating
- Weight loss
In addition, horses with dental problems may also show symptoms when riding.
- Aversion to the bit or being bridled (placing the bit in the mouth or taking it out again).
- Tilting or headshaking during riding
- Difficulty taking or maintaining a contact, hanging on one rein
- Rearing, balking
- Tongue sticking out or tongue over the bit
If you suspect that your horse may have a dental problem, it is wise to call in a dental worker or equine dentist. As we briefly mentioned above, you can also have the teeth checked annually to prevent any problems. When you call on someone, it is very important to look at the certification or education that person has followed. There is a difference between an equine dentist and a dental worker. An equine dentist is a specialized veterinarian (officially they are not allowed to call themselves an equine dentist, but a dental veterinarian). This has the advantage that they are allowed to perform certain procedures, such as pulling teeth and administering anaesthesia.
A dental worker, on the other hand, is not a protected profession. This means that anyone can call themselves a dental worker even if they have not completed any training or certification for this. It is therefore important to check whether someone is a professional and has followed certification. Because dental workers do not have a veterinary background, they are only allowed to take care of the teeth, for example by filing the molars. For the Netherlands, the Dutch Association for Equine Dental Care was established in 2010. They are, among other things, engaged in the certification of dental workers. On their site there is a list of dental care providers who have joined the association (www.nvvgp.nl/).
Preventing dental problems is better than having to cure or treat them. In addition to a preventative annual check-up, it is also important to take your horse’s dental health into account in its daily life. So make sure you have enough roughage of good quality, which has a somewhat coarse structure so that the horse has to chew it well. Preferably feed it at ground level, so that the horse eats in its natural eating position. By lowering its head, the lower jaw comes forward slightly, so that the molars fit together exactly.