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Q: I am confused by conflicting advice regarding caring for my horse’s teeth from equine dental technicians (EDTs) and vets. Are there any studies showing that levelling out the whole mouth is good for the horse, or should just the sharp edges be removed?

LS, Worcestershire

H&H answers: This is a complex area, so we asked vet Rob Pascoe BVSc MRCVS for advice. Rob is also an EDT, having passed the joint British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) and British Veterinary Dental Association (BVDA) equine dentistry qualification.

“The most important part of regular equine dental care consists of removing sharp edges that form on the cheek teeth,” explains Rob. “If left, these can cause ulcers and sores to form.

“Rasping the surfaces of the teeth is sometimes necessary. Large overgrowths of the cheek teeth can impinge on the movement of the jaw. The need for this type of work is best determined by either your vet or someone qualified with the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians [BAEDT], on an individual basis.

“The difficulties come with the variations in treatment required in individual cases,” continues Rob. “Routine rasping of occlusal [grinding] surfaces isn’t necessary or desired. Any reduction of an occlusal surface reduces its roughness and the contact between opposing teeth. This will reduce the ability of those teeth to grind and process food. Large or extensive amounts of dental work can also result in the exposure of sensitive dentine, which can cause the
horse pain during eating.

“For these reasons, excessive removal of occlusal surface for the purpose of overgrowth correction isn’t desirable; in most cases, small amounts of dental correction over several visits will have the same long-term benefit.

“Older horses require particular care, as many will have had abnormalities for a number of years and may have adapted to chew reasonably efficiently despite this.

“Major correction in these cases is often counterproductive, as the horse is either unable to adapt to the new alignment of the teeth, or the teeth cannot erupt sufficiently to improve occlusion.

“Reduction of incisors is sometimes necessary if the horse has a primary overgrowth affecting these teeth. However, there has been a tendency in recent years for some practitioners to routinely reduce the incisors following correction of cheek teeth abnormalities.

“In many cases, this has been justified by determining the lateral movement of the jaw before the cheek teeth meet, and/or calculating the percentage occlusion.

However, these theories have not been proven and recent scientific studies have suggested that it’s not necessary to reduce incisors routinely.

“Furthermore, the horse only has a finite amount of tooth. Rasp the incisors and cheek teeth too much and you remove tooth that is potentially useful for processing the horse’s food.

“All horses should be able to eat after dental treatment as well as they did before it, and preferably better. If a horse has significant difficulty eating after treatment, this indicates that excessive dental work has been performed; seek immediate veterinary attention.”

As there are no studies showing that levelling the whole mouth is good for the horse, but plenty of research that has found it to be damaging, removing sharp edges on the cheek teeth alone may be all that is necessary.

  • For specific advice about your own horse;s teeth, contact your vet or a qualified EDT. Visit www.equinedentistry.org.uk to search for a local EDT.

    This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (6 September, ’07)