Which horses need dental examination and how often is open to debate. All horses, not just horses that display signs of dental disease, require dental treatment at a regular interval. One of the most damaging myths about horse care is that your horse will show outward signs when it has sharp points or malocclusions in its mouth. This is not always the case. Cheek teeth erupt at approximately 4-6 mm annually resulting in significant enamel points within a year. By the age of 5 years, all the permanent teeth are in wear and every horse should have had at least one thorough oral examination under sedation to identify those with malocclusion problems that will require closer follow up.
It is also best to catch a dental problem when the horse is young as many serious malocclusions can be remedied if identified early. Sedation allows for a more protracted visual examination and allows digital palpation of the teeth and oral cavity. Manipulation of the mandible to assess cheek teeth occlusion is much easier and more informative under the relaxation sedation provides.
All horses over two years of age would likely benefit from an oral examination with a dental float (sharp enamel points and developing transverse ridge reduction) if they haven’t been done in the past six months. Saddle horses and performance horses in work require annual dental not only from the aspect of improved health and longevity but because a balanced mouth improves performance and suppleness while under tack. For high-level performance horses, biannual enamel point reduction dentals provide the highest comfort level for the horse.
There are obvious benefits to doing a dental float on young horses entering training. The upper cheek teeth in young horses tend to be softer and develop large, very sharp enamel points that can be a real source of pain when external pressure from a halter or headstall is applied. A bit also alters the commissure (corners) of the mouth, so the tissue can impinge on the front of the teeth and cause pain. Horses that are retired or out of work and have no recurring malocclusion problems may only need to be examined every two years.