Equine dentistry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Research initially undertaken by a few individuals has allowed massive progression into the recognition and treatment of dental disease in the horse. Importantly, signs of dental disease are rarely shown by the horse until changes are advanced or severe.
Horses may express dental pain or dental disease in the following ways:
Horses have teeth that continually erupt as they age so that the rate of wear on the chewing surface equals the rate of an eruption. In old age, the teeth are often worn out completely. The horse’s cheek teeth are composed of three types of dental material: dentine, cement and enamel. These tissues wear at different rates as the horse chews, which naturally produce an uneven chewing surface to break down grass and hay efficiently. This uneven wear, combined with an upper jaw which is wider than a lower jaw, causes sharp points to develop on the outside of the upper teeth and inside of the lower teeth. These points are removed in a procedure known as rasping or floating.
Competition horses may require further dental treatment to allow them to perform to the best of their ability. Removal of wolf teeth is not required in every horse as has been previously advocated. The placing of ‘bit seats’ is now considered an unnecessary and potentially dangerous procedure that can shorten the lifespan of the tooth.
Early recognition of dental problems can prevent progression of dental disease or allow recognition for treatment. It is sensible to have teeth checked from birth even though floating of teeth may not commence until the horse is ready to be backed.
All veterinary surgeons are qualified to assess and treat horse’s teeth. One of our veterinary surgeons, Sarah-Jane Heathcote was awarded the Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice in Equine Dentistry in 2012 following 600 hours of postgraduate study, written and practical examinations. She was the second person to achieve this qualification. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons have further accredited Sarah-Jane as an Advanced Veterinary Practitioner in Equine Dentistry. This recognises knowledge and experience gained beyond the initial veterinary degree (equivalent to a Masters) and to assure the public that she has stayed up to date in the field of Equine Dentistry since achieving the qualification and will continue to do so. Horse owners can benefit from having routine to advanced dental procedures carried out in Guernsey all year around.
Until this millennium, there was no legislation in the UK to protect the horse from having teeth rasped by untrained personnel. The Equine Dental Technician (EDT) Examination was launched to accredit suitably trained people to carry out teeth examination and floating in addition to vets, to protect the welfare of the horse. Once qualified, EDT’s become members of the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT).
The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) have raised concerns over confusion between which dental treatments can be performed by Equine Dental Technicians (EDT’s) and those that can be performed by veterinary surgeons. Owners must be aware that EDT’s are accredited in the UK only if they have passed the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians (BAEDT) examination. ‘Horse dentist’ is not a recognised term to describe EDT’s or veterinary surgeons.
Current regulations state:
“At present all diagnostic and treatment procedures in the horse’s mouth are considered to be Acts of Veterinary Surgery under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, which is regulated by the RCVS. The only exception that is considered to be outwith the Act is the manual removal of small dental overgrowths and sharp enamel points with hand instruments. These laws are designed to protect animals (including equidae) against mutilation by inappropriately qualified individuals.”
Current legislation has divided dental procedures into three Categories. Category 1 procedures can be carried out by an untrained person. An EDT can carry out Category 2 procedures in addition. Category 3 procedures can only be carried out by veterinary surgeons.
Procedures that can be performed after recognised training without specific attainment of qualifications (layperson).
Additional procedures that can be performed by an EDT who has trained and passed an examination approved by DEFRA.
All other procedures (involving diagnosis or treatment of animals) are restricted to qualified veterinary surgeons in addition to Category 1 and 2 procedures. It is therefore NOT legal for these to be performed by non-veterinarians. Some of the common procedures include: