In the past fifteen years dental care for your horse has really evolved. We used to call the vet to come out when our horse was playing with the bit or throwing his head then we would find someplace we could back the horse into or just put him in a chute. The vet would then have you grab the tongue so he could run a file or a float over the teeth to knock off the sharp points. Fifteen years later equine (horse) dental care has come a long way advancing with not only better medicine but better equipment. Now the horse is sedate making him more comfortable and less stressed which allows the vet to really look at the mouth and teeth and provide the best care for the horse, which not only helps reduce your feed bill but can even prevent colic.
Rob Arnott, DVM stated in an article entitled "What every horse owner should know" published at www.aaep.org. "The frequency with which your horse should receive a comprehensive dental exam and dental work is dependent on many factors. Regular dental care should begin during the yearling year. Until the age of five, the horse is going through tremendous dental changes with loss of baby teeth and eruption of permanent teeth. During this period the horse may need dental attention more than once a year this is commonly performed simultaneously with your horses "wellness" exam. Obviously each horse is an individual, and each situation is unique."
Some signs a horse is having teeth problems include: the horse may be eating more slowly due to mouth pain, dropping of food from the mouth while eating, tipping the head to one side to allow food to be chewed only on one side of the mouth, resistance to the bridle and bit, tossing the head while bridled, and mouthing the bit.
Today we use mild sedation to help the horse relax so that its' mouth can be opened for the vet to get a good look at all of the teeth and assess any problems that may exist. We even give an injection for pain and inflammation and also include a tetanus vaccine. The vet will then look at all of the teeth for proper alignment, and checking for abnormalities such as points and hooks. The horse's teeth need an opposing surface for continued wear and a smooth surface. Without an opposing surface, teeth will continue to erupt creating a long, sharp edge that could cause irritate the tongue, cheek tissue or gum line.
The mouth is held open by a special instrument called a full mouth speculum which has two plates to open the mouth. This type of speculum puts equal pressure on the teeth to prevent any further damage while the exam and dental care are being performed. Hand floats, also called rasps or files are still used however, a hand float requires lots of arm muscle and takes longer to file the teeth properly. We use a dental power float which is a hand powered tool with an attachment that allows the vet to perform the procedure in less time and do a better job.
As always finding a problem early is always better for your horse and will save you over the long run, it may even prevent problems that may impact his health over his lifetime.