Through research and experience I have learned that dental exams should begin as soon as a foal starts getting teeth. You'll want to make sure the bite is normal so that their teeth can grow and develop properly. A horse needs dental work every year and some, may need dental work every 6 months.
I am not an Equine Dentist but I've had plenty of horses that had to have dental work done. Every few years I would take my horses to the veterinarian to get their teeth floated. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn't know there was more to just floating a horse's teeth. That's when I learned about specialists called “Equine Dentists.”
When floating a horse's teeth the veterinarian smoothes off the sharp edges using a file. Unlike human teeth a horse's teeth keep growing. During the growth process teeth can develop sharp edges that can cause many dental problems. The sharp edges often cause inflammation, irritation and ulceration. The top teeth will develop sharp edges that grow toward the cheeks while the bottom teeth develop sharp edges that grow toward the tongue.
A horse starts out with their baby teeth and by the age of five most horses will have their full set of permanent teeth. An adult horse will have between 36 to 44 teeth. Did you know that miniature horses have the same amount of teeth crowded in that little mouth and that their teeth are the same size as a regular sized horse?
My Equine Dentist mentioned to me that confined horses are more prone to overgrown teeth. The horse's that are turned out for all day grazing have far fewer problems. Grazing horses are naturally grinding their teeth down which helps to keep their teeth smooth. If your horse has access to day long grazing it does not mean they don't need dental care. Grazing horses can still have other dental problems.
Signs That Your Horse May Need A Dental Exam
Refusing the bit
Hard to keep weight on
Holding their head sideways
Picking up the wrong lead
Constantly chewing on the bit
Dropping lots of grain when eating
Spitting out balls of partially chewed hay
Throwing their head when the bridled is on
Sensitivity to the halter when putting it on
Be aware that some horses may not show any of these signs but, that does not mean they don't need dental work. It is best to have your horse checked on a yearly basis. Your dental professional will let you know how often your horse needs a dental exam.
Do your research before having any dental work done on your horse. Ask questions such as: What training do they have and where did they get that education? Who did they apprentice under? If it is a veterinarian, make sure they have taken current equine dental continuing education courses. Don't accept an answer like, “I just figured it out on my own.” Be aware that in some states “Equine Dentists” are not allowed to perform dental work and only veterinarians can care for horse's dental needs.