Equine Dental Care: Complete Guide to Caring for Your Horse’s Teeth

Equine Dental Care: Complete Guide to Caring for Your Horse’s Teeth

Standfirst Want to know more about how to care for your horse’s teeth? Petplan Equine veterinary expert Gil Riley and Equine Dental Services’ Sophie Eley answer your questions.

Your horse’s teeth are a really important part of their digestive system and need regular care to keep them pain-free and healthy. In this guide, Petplan Equine veterinary expert Gil Riley and Equine Dental Services’ Sophie Eley explain how to make sure your horse’s teeth are properly cared for.

Why do horses need dental care?

Unlike human teeth, a horse’s teeth continue to erupt over their lifetime but continually wear down by about 2–3mm each year. The shape of the visible parts of the teeth vary at different points of eruption, which is how you can estimate your horse’s age by looking at his teeth. This means they are constantly changing and should be checked regularly throughout their lives.

Signs of dental problems in horses

Not all horses will show obvious signs of dental pain, which is why regular check-ups are so important. 'Once a problem occurs, it rarely corrects itself and usually progresses,’ says Sophie. ‘This can cause further problems to other teeth and soft tissues in the mouth.' Here are the top signs of dental pain in horses to look out for:

  • A change in eating habits – for example, drooling, dipping his hay in his water bucket or holding his head to the side while eating.
  • Quidding, which is when your horse drops or spits semi-chewed balls of feed or hay from his mouth.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Unpleasant smell from nose or mouth.
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Facial swellings around the mouth or jaw.
  • Choke.
  • Unexplained poor ridden performance.


How do I find a suitable equine dentist?

The term ‘equine dentist’ can be misleading because there are only two recognised professions in this area: vets and equine dental technicians (EDTs). 'Equine vets are qualified in all aspects of dentistry,’ explains Gil. ‘EDTs have passed the exam to join the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians [BAEDT], which is a dental association endorsed by the British Equine Veterinary Association.'

Before you allow someone to carry out dental work on your horse, you must check they are suitably trained and qualified. 'Any full member of the BAEDT has passed the rigorous exam, attends regular CPD, is routinely assessed and fully insured,’ Sophie emphasises. Owners should be aware that there are people out there practising dentistry who are not qualified or registered. While this is not illegal, it puts your horse at serious risk — so always choose a dental technician from the BAEDT register and ask your vet if you’re not sure.

Do vets and equine dental technicians work together?

Yes! An EDT can’t sedate your horse, so you can arrange for your vet to do this before treatment. Gil explains that over the years, the emergence of EDTs has encouraged equine vets to up their game within dentistry. ‘Some have even taken the BAEDT exam,’ explains Gil. ‘Which has meant a higher standard of care all round.’

When should my horse receive dental treatment?

Regular check-ups are important as not all signs of problems will be obvious. We recommend your horse has a dental check at least once a year and more often for young or older horses. Sophie suggests starting regular check-ups when your horse is around two years old, so your vet or EDT can make sure that all teeth are erupting normally and look for wolf teeth or other abnormalities.

Having your horse’s teeth checked by a professional at least once a year can help prevent dental disease and deal with any alignment issues before they cause problems for your horse.

Equine dental care in young horses

'At a young age, horses should be checked every six months to monitor the eruption and shedding of deciduous [baby] teeth,’ explains Sophie. ‘Eruption occurs much faster in younger horses so they are likely to get sharp edges a lot quicker and any malocclusions [misalignments] can progress more rapidly.'

This is especially important if you are starting a young horse and introducing them to the bit.

Does my horse need to be sedated for dental treatment?

Most are happy to have their check-ups and routine treatments without sedation. But it can definitely be useful if your horse requires a more thorough examination or tends to get stressed or worried.

'In the majority of circumstances, a well-trained, competent and qualified practitioner will carry out their work – including examination, removal of sharp points, reduction of overgrowths and rebalancing of malocclusions – on a well-behaved, unsedated patient. Sedation may be required for some patients,' Sophie adds, 'but it’s not essential in all cases.'

The most important thing is to listen to your horse. Always ask your vet for advice if you’re unsure.

Is equine dental treatment covered by insurance?

Routine dental examinations are part of your horse’s general upkeep, but further treatment outside of this may be covered by your insurance. At Petplan Equine we will assess any claims for dental in line with the policy Terms and Conditions. Your horse’s dental cover falls under the vet fees benefit, which can be found on your Certificate of Insurance. In order for a claim to be assessed, your horse must have an annual dental examination, with any treatment carried out within the recommended timescales.

It’s important to keep your examination records and be aware of what your vet/EDT has identified.

'During an examination, your vet/EDT may identify something that has the potential to become an issue. This may pose no problem at the time – and may never in the future,' Gil reassures, 'but it will be recorded and may be excluded from your policy.'

Dental care is an important part of keeping your horse healthy and a dental exam can reveal all sorts of things about your horse. Has your vet or dental technician ever uncovered anything interesting when looking at your horse's teeth?