Equine Oral Health Exams

Until recently, owners and vets considered equine dental floating the most important aspect of dental care.

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Until recently, owners and veterinarians considered equine dental floating, or filing sharp enamel points on the outside edges of the upper cheek teeth, the most important aspect of equine dental care. However, modern equine dental practice has moved away from just tooth rasping toward more accurately diagnosing problems in the mouth and addressing each animal’s dental needs.

Intraoral examination is the foundation of state-of-the art equine dental practice. Not every horse needs his teeth floated every year, but all horses should have their mouth examined at least once a year. This allows veterinarians to detect problems before they become severe or irreversible. Often, the owner does not pick up on a horse’s dental disease until it has advanced to detectable stages. Clinical signs of advanced dental disease include facial or jaw swellings, pus draining from the nostrils and/or the sinuses, and difficulty eating.

Prior to the dental exam, the veterinarian should take a brief clinical history and perform a general physical exam to determine if the horse is healthy enough to undergo dental procedures. This also helps the practitioner diagnose dental-related systemic diseases early. If the horse has a bitting problem, the veterinarian might also need to examine the bridle or observe the horse moving under tack.

Equipment required for an intraoral exam includes at least a full-mouth speculum, a good light source, and a rigid ¬handled dental mirror. Lack of working space in the mouth and uncontrolled head and tongue movement can limit a veterinarian’s detailed examination. Therefore, mild sedation is usually indicated in all but the most ¬compliant horses. The veterinarian might need to perform an endoscopic exam of the oral cavity and nasal passages to take a closer look at abnormal areas or discharging tracts

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Written by:

Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Equine), is a private equine practitioner serving the Central Kentucky area. While his practice provides all equine services, his passion of 35 years has been equine dentistry. He lectures and teaches worldwide, contributes to lay horse magazines and journals, and is the co-author of the three editions of the textbook Equine Dentistry.

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