Who Cares for Your Horse's Teeth? Choose Carefully

The adage says, “no hoof, no horse,” but the same could probably be said about your horse’s teeth. Horses with poor oral health not only suffer painful consequences—from gum lesions caused by sharp enamel points to periodontal disease and sinus issues—but they also likely can’t get the nutrients they need to stay healthy and at an appropriate body weight.

Considering the key role teeth and their associated structures play in keeping a horse healthy, carefully considering who you choose to examine and treat them is crucial. For this reason, equine veterinarians and veterinary specialists focusing on oral health have the most to offer horses and owners alike.

“A general equine practitioner is like your regular family dentist,” says Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, AVDC-Eq, of Easley Equine Dentistry, in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

“They’ve undergone years of training on how to properly perform complete physical and oral exams,” he says. “They’ve learned how to choose and administer sedation, a key component of conducting a thorough oral exam and rendering appropriate treatment. And they can order additional imaging, blood tests, and other ancillary diagnostics if they identify a potential problem.”

An additional point some horse owners might overlook, says Easley, is veterinarians carry liability insurance that would help cover the cost of any mishap that might occur during an exam or treatment, Easley says.

Indeed, most equine practitioners are well-qualified to perform a wide range of dental exams and procedures. But in some cases they might recommend a veterinary dental specialist. Reasons include a getting a second opinion, the horse requiring aa more invasive or complex treatment or surgery, or simply because they don’t have as strong an interest in dentistry, Easley says.

In these cases practitioners might recommend, or an owner can seek out, a specialist like a diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC).

“An AVDC diplomate is likened to a human dental specialist such as a maxillofacial surgeon or orthodontist who has had been trained to perform more intricate procedures,” Easley says. “An AVDC diplomate (undergoes) two to three additional years of a residency training in dentistry, anesthesiology, surgery, and imaging. They work with local veterinarians, surgeons, and other veterinary specialists to diagnose and treat unusual or difficult and challenging cases.”

In short, they’re well-equipped to handle any challenge your horse’s mouth offers.

A Word of Caution

Over the years the so-called “lay dentist” entered the equine dental care landscape. While these individuals might seem like comparable options to an equine practitioner or equine dental specialist, the services they can offer legally differ significantly.

“There is no such thing as a ‘lay dentist,’” Easley says. “The term ‘dentist’ implies that one has been formally trained in oral dental medicine and surgery. These individuals—more appropriately referred to as ‘tooth floaters’— have not had such training.

“Veterinarians are the only licensed and legal medical professional who can perform dental medical and surgical procedures and administer medications,” Easley reminds.

Take-Home Message

Your horse’s teeth play a key role in keeping him healthy. When it comes time to choose an oral health care provider, consult your equine practitioner. He or she has the skills and connections needed to evaluate dental health, treat issues that arise, or recommend a specialist to keep your horse’s mouth in the best possible condition.