AAEP Launching Equine Dentistry Campaign

Because proper dental care is vital to a horse’s overall health, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is launching a campaign to promote the need for horses to receive a thorough oral examination at least once a year. Designed


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Because proper dental care is vital to a horse’s overall health, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is launching a campaign to promote the need for horses to receive a thorough oral examination at least once a year. Designed to reach horse owners, the campaign will kick off in April and run through 2008.

It is important to catch dental problems early. Horses with dental problems might be obvious in showing they’re experiencing pain or irritation, or they might show no noticeable signs at all. But left undiagnosed and untreated, a dental problem can develop into a much more significant health concern. In a 2006 study of horses suffering from chronic weight loss, 20% of the horses experienced weight loss due to dental disorders.

In addition to weight loss, the inability to chew feed into small particles can lead to colic, and the bacteria associated with gum disease in the horse’s mouth can migrate to other areas of the body, similar to what occurs with gum disease in humans.

AAEP dentistry logo

“Routine dental maintenance is the easiest step an owner can take to prevent a more serious problem from developing,” said Eleanor M. Green, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ABVP, AAEP president. “When you schedule vaccinations or a Coggin’s test for your horse, this is the perfect opportunity to schedule a dental examination with your horse’s veterinarian as well.”

During April, the AAEP’s “Ask the Vet” feature on AAEP.org will focus on equine dentistry. Lynn Caldwell, DVM, and Elizabeth Schilling, DVM, of the Equine Dentistry Committee will answer questions from horse owners about dental health. In addition, a variety of educational articles and resources about equine dentistry are available on the AAEP Web site. Visit AAEP.org/Horseowner to learn more.

Jack Easley, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, of Shelbyville, Ky., is nationally recognized for his expertise in equine dentistry. He is a past chair of the AAEP’s Dentistry Committee and serves as an association spokesperson on equine dental issues.

Here are his replies to horse owners’ most frequently asked questions regarding equine dental care:

Why is it important for my horse to have regular dental examinations?

An oral examination should be an essential part of an annual physical examination by a veterinarian. Every exam provides the opportunity to perform routine preventative dental maintenance. Regular examinations also help identify dental problems while they are still in the early stage, which decreases the chances that the dental problem can lead to other serious health issues for the horse.

How often should a horse receive a dental exam?

At the minimum, all horses should receive a yearly dental exam. Horses aged 2 to 5 years may require more frequent dental exams than older horses, as there is an extraordinary amount of dental maturation during this period. Senior horses (20 years old or older) are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease and face the additional challenges of advancing age. Twice-a-year examinations are often required to keep their teeth functioning properly into their third and fourth decades of life.

How will I know if my horse has a dental problem?

Horses with dental problems may show obvious signs such as pain or irritation, or they may show no noticeable signs at all. Equine veterinarians skilled in dentistry are constantly amazed at how much discomfort horses will endure without any overt signals to their owners. By the time the average owner notices a problem, such as loss of feed from the mouth while eating, fighting the bit or foul odor from the mouth or nostrils, the abnormalities inside the mouth are likely to be severe.

How many teeth does a horse have?

A typical adult male horse has 40 permanent teeth, while a typical mare may have 36 to 40 teeth, because mares are less likely to have canine (bridle) teeth. A horse’s permanent teeth are about four inches long.

Do horses have “baby” teeth?

Like humans, horses have two sets of teeth in their lifetimes. The baby teeth, called deciduous teeth, are temporary. The first deciduous incisors may erupt before the foal is born. The last deciduous teeth come in when the horse is about eight months of age. These “baby” teeth will begin to be replaced by adult teeth around the age of 2 ½, and by age 5, most horses have all of their permanent teeth.

What does it mean to “float” a horse’s teeth?

Routine maintenance of a horse’s mouth has been historically referred to as “floating.” Floating removes the sharp enamel points. Occlusal equilibration is the term now used to describe smoothing enamel points, correcting malocclusion (faulty meeting of the upper and lower teeth), balancing the dental arcades and correcting other dental problems.

What is the difference between traditional floating and power floating?

Traditionally, horses have had their sharp enamel points and dental crown elongations reduced with hand-held rasps (floats). These manual dental instruments have improved in quality over the past 20 years but still require a reasonable amount of manual dexterity, physical strength and “elbow grease.” High quality dental tools powered by electricity or compressed air have become readily available and affordable over the past 10 years. These instruments reduce the physical effort that is required, and with expertise and caution, allow for more complete and efficient dental care.

Will my horse need to be sedated during a dental exam?

Some horses find the process of having their mouth opened and instruments placed in the oral cavity to be stressful. For a complete oral examination and good quality corrective care, most horses benefit from a mild sedative to relieve any stress or unnecessary movement on the patient’s part.


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