Why all the fuss about good dental care is an essential part to your horse’s well-being, to prevent disease and to ensure they are comfortable when they are ridden ?
Horses in the wild do not use dentists right?¿
Read through if you want to know more…
Prevention is always better than cure, so ensure that your horse has regular dental checks from a vet or suitably qualified equine dental technician. Monitoring your horse for signs of any dental discomfort is crucial being mindful that some horses, even with advanced dental disease, will suffer in silence, since showing any chance of discomfort in the wild is seen as an advertising for a free meal.
I am going to cover the basic anatomy of the horse’s mouth, the signs to look out for if your horse is suffering from dental disease, what to expect at a dental examination and what sort of problems can be found at this examination.
Horses are designed to chew rough fibre for over 18 hours a day, a horse’s teeth are very hard wearing. This diet, together with the horse’s chewing action, wears his teeth down at a rate of approximately 2-3 mm per year ( Is thanks to this continuously growing of the teeth that we can approximately tell the age of a horse, but this folks, is for another article). To compensate for this wear a horse’s teeth continue to erupt through the gums into the mouth over time until he reaches an age when there is simply nothing more left to erupt. When this occurs he simply loses his teeth, and then probably dies.
In the wild the horse’s own chewing action generally wears his teeth evenly to prevent sharp edges and spikes from forming over time. However, as it is now more normal for us to stable our horses and feed them concentrates, their normal chewing activity is reduced which can result in sharp edges forming, causing discomfort and eating problems. Equally, expecting our horses to work in bridles puts other pressures on their mouths, which wouldn’t normally happen in the wild.
The horse has a total of 36 teeth with males having additional canine teeth, which are not normally present in mares or fillies, although, sometimes theses can also be present in females. Additionally, some horses develop ‘wolf teeth’, which are small functionless teeth that can erupt just in front of the first cheek tooth. The incisors or front teeth are designed for grazing and biting at grass, whilst the cheek teeth or molars, which extend to the level of the eye, are responsible for grinding food.
How can I prevent problems?
– There are 2 key considerations to prevent dental problems: regular check-ups and ensuring that your horse’s diet contains enough long fibre
– For youngsters it is sensible to start routine dental care in the first year of life, with check-ups every year thereafter.
– Once your horse reaches twelve years of age, or if he has abnormal dental conformation, the time between check-ups may need to be reduced to every six months
– Such check-ups should be performed by a vet or suitably qualified equine dental technician
– You can help your horse by providing at least half of his diet as good quality long fibre.
If you have an older horse, he may require special attention with his diet, especially if he
is missing teeth and struggles to chew long fibre. Fibre replacements offer a good solution in such cases, but, speak to your vet with any concerns or to an equine nutritionist for individual feeding advice.
Here some of the problems caused because of a bad mouth:
– Halitosis (bad smelling breath)
– Quidding – dropping partially chewed food
– Reduced appetite,difficulty eating, slow eating
– Food packing within cheeks
– Poorly digested food in droppings
– Weight loss
– Difficulties when ridden such as an unsteady head carriage, head shacking, head tilting to one side, tension on the TMJ, reluctance to mouth the bit, etc.
And these are the so often problems seen by the dentists or vets:
– Abnormal wear with sharp enamel edges on both the lower and upper cheek teeth. If pronounced this can cause painful ulcers and erosions on the soft tissues of the cheek or tongue
– Overgrowths secondary to a misaligned jaw (parrot mouth) or as a result of a missing tooth
– Fractured, displaced, loose or missing cheek teeth
– Diastema (gaps between the teeth where food collects) causing gum disease
– Caries: tooth decay
– Tooth root abscess
– Retained deciduous (baby) teeth
– Blind (unerupted) or abnormally large or displaced wolf teeth
– Abnormalities of the incisors
I hope this article has been very useful and that you take good care of your horse´s teeth.