Did you know that unlike human teeth, horses’ teeth continue to grow late into life? The equine tooth is quite different from ours. As they grow, they develop sharp points called “hooks” or “ramps” which can become uneven, making it difficult and painful for a horse to chew effectively, hold a bit comfortably, or accept pressure. Their teeth may be different from ours in composition and use, but they have many of the same needs as we do, with problems ranging from crooked teeth to dental decay. With a human, the ultimate correction for teeth that haven’t been taken care of is a set of false teeth, and life goes on. With a horse, the ultimate result of bad teeth is the inability to eat, and, without human intervention, starvation. When horses eat, they grind food between the surfaces of their top and bottom premolars/molars with a sideways movement rather than up-and-down.
When was the last time your horse’s teeth were thoroughly checked by a veterinarian? While it may seem as if your horse is eating well and maintaining its weight, hidden problems may affect his performance and behavior. If your horse is dropping feed, tossing its head, opening its mouth, or resisting flexion at the pole, it may have mouth pain. Sharp points on your horse’s teeth can cause sores in the mouth. These can be either on the inside of the cheeks or on the tongue. To maintain oral health, your veterinarian will use specialized dental tools to smooth and contour your horse’s teeth. The use of more sophisticated power tools consisting of rotary floats, blades, and dremels are now considered to be the standard in health care. We continually research equipment for safety and efficiency. Since the procedures, angles, locations of teeth, and size of horses vary immensely, we need specialized equipment to address those different jobs – it is a big responsibility to use a power tool correctly. The operator needs to have considerable instruction and experience. When they are used correctly, it is a positive experience for the horse. Dr. Liberman has practiced equine dentistry for over 23 years. The enormous evolution of equine dentistry, both in science and in technology, has required advanced continuing education.
We at Panorama Equine see dentistry as a core component of the equine preventative HEALTH care program,
which is now generally understood to be parasite control, hoof care, and vaccinations.
AGE-RELATED RECOMMENDED DENTAL CARE SCHEDULE
The application of a dental exam, and possible dental work, once a year or more is routine for horses.
A young horse should be checked primarily for a normal occlusion of the mouth. If the jaws are out of alignment, it is an indication that as those teeth come in, the baby will develop either an underbite or an overbite.
For the two- to five-year-old horse it is very important to be checking the mouth on a 6-month basis. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, 24 permanent cheek teeth will erupt, with up to 16 teeth erupting simultaneously. When a young horse loses a “baby” tooth (deciduous premolar, or “cap”) the emerging adult premolar will come down into place. Some very sharp points can be on this tooth. This shedding process can cause much discomfort, as those sharp points can take 6 months to smooth on their own. The sharp enamel points often lacerate the cheek. Baby teeth also become problematic when they don’t shed on time. Retained caps can cause delayed eruption (impaction) or misplacement of permanent teeth.
A very important consideration for a two-year-old is having its wolf teeth removed before he ever goes into training or has a bit in his mouth. The wolf teeth are located just in front of the first upper cheek tooth, which is where a bit will normally be positioned in the mouth. The interference of these wolf teeth with the bit can create a very unpleasant sensation for the horse.
The middle-aged horse typically requires an annual exam. What we look for in horses this age are hooks, points, wave mouth, accentuated transverse ridges, and stepped molars. Freedom from these conditions allows the jaws to move more freely against one another, which positively affects the horse’s ability to round at the poll without creating stiffness or tension.
The aged horse should be checked annually unless specified otherwise by a dental specialist. As your horse gets into its 20s, we are now dealing with teeth that are wearing out. The goal for this age is to keep the teeth that are there working or grinding as good as possible. These horses often have dental problems that keep them from grinding properly, affecting their ability to process their feed effectively. The result is either slow starvation or a horse that is expensive to feed, with the feed going through him having very little nutritional benefit.
Mouths that haven’t had regular dental care have significant gum and periodontal problems. Inflamed gums, periodontal disease, possible abscesses, and fractured or loose teeth are all conditions that we find. Fractured teeth are very painful for the horse. Loose teeth could be uncomfortable as they chew and are also the potential source of abscesses. When bad enough, they need to be extracted. It has also been documented that toxins released from infected gum tissue have a systemic affect on the heart and other organs through the bacterial release from infected gums and decaying teeth. This bacterial formation may initiate such conditions as endocarditis, kidney problems, etc. With your older horse it is a good idea to combine a thorough dental examination with a physical examination and sometimes blood work which checks the function of the kidneys and liver. This will also be the time to discuss the need for feed changes to suit your older horse, depending on our findings.