Why Equine Dentistry

The domestication and management methods of the modern horse are greatly removed from that of the natural environment of the species. The equine dentition has evolved to become highly specialised and efficient at processing a diet of grass and abrasive vegetation. As a result of domestication, involving high energy soft grain feeds, less time is spent masticating roughage resulting in a decreased rate of dental crown attrition and hence the development of dental abnormalities detrimental to the horse’s welfare and performance when ridden.

The equine hypsodont dentition continually erupts throughout the life of the horse at a rate of 2-3mm a year equating to the rate of attrition or wear on the occlusal surface of the teeth as a result of high silica content in grasses and vegetation. The equine, free grazing at grass, will graze for up to 16 hours out of 24, depending on seasonal daylight variations in a natural environment. When this time budget is compared to the eating times of modern domesticated and stabled equine athletes, it is easily understood why domestication may adversely effect the essential attrition of horses’ teeth.

Scientific studies by veterinary surgeons and equine dental technicians, coupled with advancement in instrumentation, has lead to greater knowledge and understanding of prophylactic treatment and care of equine dentition. This increased awareness and knowledge has initiated an increased demand for service from the professional field of equine dentistry. In part this has resulted in a shift in the administration of dental treatment from qualified veterinary surgeons, who previously carried out routine dental treatment as part of a holistic approach to the general maintenance of the horse, to Equine Dental Technicians (EDT’s).

This is an abstract from “A Comparison of the Occurrence of Common Dental Abnormalities in Stabled and Free Grazing Horses”. Written by Jonathan Keen for his 2008 dissertation.