Equine Dentistry – busting the myths and beating the jargon

By Chris Pearce on 01 May 2018

Our guest blogger Chris Pearce, who is a Recognised Veterinary Specialist in Equine Dentistry translates some common dental terms and sifts the facts from the fiction…….


Weird terminology is normal

Equine veterinary science includes many ‘non-veterinary’ terms that have evolved over hundreds of years. Names such as bog spavin, bone spavin, canker, fistulous withers and many more all have clear and direct translations into veterinary language and are recognised as ‘common’ terms for particular diseases or syndromes.

What’s confusing is that many other terms are also used, especially in equine dentistry, that have no direct veterinary counterpart. Some of them don’t have any factual basis and some don’t even exist! To compound the problem some theories and practices have developed without any research or any veterinary involvement – ranging from the unnecessary to the dangerous.

Image: www.equinedentalclinic.co.uk


In this blog I aim to translate some common dental terms and ‘myth-bust’ to help you understand which theories and practices have good science behind them, and which do not. What is a ‘bit-seat’? Should all horses have ‘wolf teeth’ removed? What is a ‘wedging procedure’? Don’t know your ‘ramps’ from your ‘hooks’? Read on…


What is an ‘equine dentist’?

In human medicine, we have doctors and also dentists, both similarly qualified and educated, with very similar entry requirements for university at medical or dental school. Both have a 5-year university degree qualification and in many cases the first couple of years involve the same course.


In equine medicine, veterinary surgeons must also take a 5-year university degree. However there is no qualification for equine dentistry as there is for human dentistry. In fact, because there is no such course, there is actually no such thing as an equine dentist. Some people referring to themselves equine dentists have not even attended any formal training or dental-related education. Therefore, it is highly misleading to use the word dentist to describe the job of someone who is performing equine dentistry.

In human dentistry, we have

  • Human dentist – 5 year university degree qualification, like a doctor.
  • Human dental hygienist – 3 year university degree and apprenticeship, regulated by General Dental Council (GDC).
  • Human dental technician (dental technologist) – BTEC National Diploma in Dental Technology, regulated by GDC, entry requirements 4 GCSE, grade C or above, or a BSc(Hons) degree in dental technology (full time degree).

In equine dentistry, we have:

  • Veterinary Surgeon (VS) – 5 year full time university degree, standard entry requirements AAA at A-level – further equine dental expertise is demonstrated through Advanced Practitioner status or Specialist status (equivalent to human consultant) with re-accreditation required every 5 years, all strictly regulated under the (RCVS).*
  • Equine Dental Technician – (recommended title of non-vets working on horses’ teeth) eg BAEDT* members who have undergone structured training, have a BSc in equine dental studies (currently discontinued) or have attended appropriate courses. The BAEDT entry examination must be passed demonstrating competence. They are legally only permitted to examine, rasp teeth using hand or power instruments and extract wolf teeth under direct vet supervision.
  • Equine dentist (aka ‘tooth man’, ‘horse dentist’) – these individuals have no regulated training and no legal status. Anyone reading this post could call themselves an ‘equine dentist’ which is why the title is so misleading to the general horse owning public.


*RCVS Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
*BAEDT – British Association of Equine Dental Technicians

What is rasping (also floating, balancing, equilibrating, odontoplasty)?

These are terms used for routine maintenance dentistry. Horses’ teeth continually ‘erupt’ and are pushed out of the mouth at about 2-3mm per year – a rate which matches the rate at which they are worn down by the constant chomping of a very coarse fibrous diet. As they eat in a circular motion, with a sideways force on the teeth, the wear is uneven, and especially with domestication (less access to pasture, less time chomping) the teeth develop sharp points of enamel on the outside of the top teeth, and the inside of the bottom teeth. These sharp points can become large, and cause cheek ulceration, change eating patterns and cause major discomfort. Differences in the heights and angles of the teeth can also develop, depending on how the teeth are all wearing, and these often need correcting too.

Image: www.equinedentalclinic.co.uk


Rasping, or floating, was a carpentry term originally describing how a rasp was floated over the surface of wood to even out all the irregularities. This is traditionally how it is done for teeth with original hand rasps looking like big carpenters’ rasps. Nowadays it is often done using specialised motorised instruments (like many carpenters today use motorised tools). These tools are extremely accurate and efficient, but to use them requires training. Horses do need some sharp edges to make them efficient chompers – if we rasp too much, we can easily prevent the horse from being able to eat efficiently or in the worst cases stop it being able to eat at all. Therefore, it is extremely important to make sure you use a veterinary surgeon well trained in dentistry, or a regulated and qualified equine dental technician (e.g. BAEDT*) to rasp your horse’s teeth.


What are hooks, beaks, ramps, waves and steps?

A horse with perfect anatomy and no dental disease ever, should wear down all the teeth evenly throughout a life of happy chewing. Unfortunately, like us, horses rarely have perfect teeth, or live in a perfect environment. Added to this, dental disease such as decay, fractured, displaced or missing teeth all mean that the tooth directly opposite (the antagonist) does not wear down and therefore grows ‘longer’. These are all termed ‘focal overgrowths’ and over the years have been given names that reflect their shapes and forms – a bit like stalactites and stalagmites – so hooks are often curved overgrowths at the front or back of the row of cheek teeth, ramps are larger longer hookswaves are central areas of progressive reduced and increased wear forming a wave type appearance, and so on. Collectively they are all known as wear abnormalities.


What is a ‘bit-seat’?

This is a term for a technique that has gained world-wide recognition despite having no logical or scientific basis, and can be dangerous. The theory is that the front part of the first cheek tooth is ground down by a rasp or motorised tool. This is meant to help ‘seat’ the bit in this area. Many advocates of this technique claim that once it is done, your horse will have ‘power steering’. Another reference stated that it will ‘help the airflow through the mouth’ – which is complete nonsense as horses cannot breathe through their mouths! In fact, it is likely that the bit almost never contacts this region during normal riding. Some horses may lift the bit and chew on it in this region, but studies have shown that a ‘bit seat’ cannot prevent this. Some horses may open their mouths, and if pulled very hard to the side, such as in polo, a sharp point on the front tooth could potentially damage the cheek. Therefore we always gently round off the front of the first tooth. This is called ‘rostral profiling’ and is a simple technique that does not remove very much tooth at all.


So what’s the problem with a ‘bit-seat’?

All teeth have between 5-7 blood and nerve channels running through the teeth called the ‘pulp canals’. These are buried just under the surface of the tooth, and there have been many instances of these being badly damaged by ‘bit-seating’ as so much tooth is removed. The result of this can be root disease, abscess formation and severe dental pain. Added to this, removing this much tooth top and bottom from the first cheek tooth means these teeth cannot be used for munching any more. A severe problem can be created without reason or logic.


Now you’re clear about the facts and the jargon there’s nothing to stop you making sure your horse’s teeth are properly checked by a correctly qualified person at least once a year!


Find out more about caring for your horse’s teeth here



European and RCVS Recognised Veterinary Specialist in Equine Dentistr

European and RCVS Recognised Veterinary Specialist in Equine Dentistry is one of the country’s leading equine veterinary dental Specialists. He runs the Equine Dental Clinic Ltd in Wimborne, Dorset, UK, a centre of excellence for equine dentistry offering routine, advanced and specialist referral services.

This may also help

Join the Community