Horses and humans both have two sets of teeth in their lifetime - baby or deciduous teeth and permanent adult teeth. Unlike humans, a horse's adult teeth continue to erupt throughout their lifetime, at a rate of 2-3 mm per year. Normal wear should correspond to this yearly eruption rate, however malocclusions or improper position of the teeth can lead to serious dental problems. Modern management practices can also contribute to dental problems. Horses in the wild graze almost continuously, picking up dirt and grass as they graze. This wears down the teeth, but stabled horses that have two or three meals a day and are likely to eat more processed grains and softer hay are not able to give their teeth the same work-out. Even with free access to pasture, horses will still tend to develop sharp enamel points.
The most common dental problems are:
- Sharp enamel points on cheek teeth
- Retained caps
- Lost or broken teeth
- Excessively worm or abnormally long teeth
- Discomfort caused by wolf teeth contacting the bit
- Long or sharp canines interfering with the bit
- Infected teeth or gums
Identifying dental problems as early as possible is important. Some horses show obvious signs such as pain or irritation, but many simply adapt to the discomfort and show no signs at all. For this reason, we recommend periodic dental examinations, usually on a annual basis. It is especially important to check horses ages 2-5 years old. During this time, 24 teeth will be shed and replaced in total! Horses of these ages are also usually starting training and regular dental examinations can prevent any dental-related training problems. Senior horses can also experience significant dental disease due to abnormal tooth wear and missing or fractured teeth.
The most common signs of dental problems are:
- Dropped feed, difficulty chewing or excessive salivation
- Loss of body condition
- Large undigested particles in the manure
- Fighting the bit or head tossing
- Poor performance
- Foul odor from the mouth or nostrils
- Nasal discharge or facial swelling
The most common dental procedure performed is floating which is the process of filing down a horse's teeth. This removes sharp enamel points and help create a more even dental occlusion. Floating is especially important in cases of malocclusion or missing teeth. Apposing teeth normally wear each other down. When a horse has lost a tooth, the opposite tooth will not be worn down normally and can cause problems. Mal-aligned teeth can cause hooks to form which can cut the gums as well as the soft and hard palates. Our basic dental treatment consists first of a complete oral exam with speculum to allow full examination of all teeth and the oral cavity. This usually requires mild sedation for both the horse's and our safety. The sharp enamel points are rounded with a power float and any other dental abnormalities are dealt with as needed. Local anesthetics and analgesics may also be used depending on the situation. Older horses can require more significant dental care and more frequent dental exams to maintain a healthy, pain-free mouth. Radiographs (x-rays) can also be taken to evaluate tooth roots or look for any abnormalities under the surface. For some more complicated procedures, we may refer to a local veterinary specialist.
Wolf teeth and Canines:
Wolf teeth are very small teeth located just in front of the second premolar (the first cheek tooth). They do not have roots that attach them to the jaw bone and are most often in the upper jaw. A horse may have one, two or no wolf teeth. Because they are located just where a bit normally sits in a horse's mouth, they can cause interference with a bit. They are commonly removed to prevent any pain during training. Canine teeth in mature geldings and stallions can sometimes also cause problems because they are so sharp. The canine teeth can be clipped or filled smooth to reduce any chance of problems or injuries.
If you have any questions or concerns about your horse's teeth, please contact your us for more information. Keeping a horse's teeth healthy is a very important part of their overall well-being.