Caring for your horse's mouth is an important part of caring for their overall health, happiness, and performance. In today's post, our Versailles vets share some important reasons why you should have your horse's teeth examined regularly and oral health problems that could affect your horse.
Your Horse's Teeth
Horses, like their humans, get two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth, are temporary. These teeth begin to be replaced by adult teeth around age two. By age 5, most horses have their full set of permanent teeth.
A horse’s teeth are continuously erupting throughout its entire life. They also chew their food by moving their jaws from side to side in a figure 8 motion. These two factors result in the development of sharp points along the outside of the upper cheek teeth and along the inside of the lower cheek teeth of your horse's mouth. Over the course of a year, these points can become sharp enough to damage the soft tissues of your horse's mouth as they chew.
Horses can also have dental abnormalities or poor dental placement, shape, or structure which may continue to become more severe if not addressed on a regular basis.
Dental Issues Seen in Horses
Dental issues are relatively common in our equine friends. Horses may experience a range of dental issues if their teeth are not properly maintained. Some examples include:
- Sharp points form on cheek teeth, causing lacerations of the cheeks and tongue
- Deciduous teeth that have not fallen out
- Discomfort caused by bit contact with the wolf teeth
- Hooks forming on the upper and lower cheek teeth
- Lost, broken, misaligned, or worn teeth
- Abnormal or uneven bite planes
- Abnormally long teeth
- Infected teeth and/or gums
- Periodontal (gum) disease
Signs That Your Horse Is Experiencing Dental Issues
Horses experiencing dental issues may display one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of body condition
- Large or undigested feed particles in manure
- Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting bridling
- Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw, or mouth tissues
- Foul odor from the mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood in the mouth
- Loss of feed from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation
- Poor performance, such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, and even bucking
You know your horse better than anyone, so if they start showing signs or behaviors that seem out of character, it's time to schedule a dental appointment with our experienced equine vet at Bluegrass Equine Surgery.
Treating Dental Issues in Horses
Having your vet examine your horse's teeth annually is the best way to maintain the health of your horse's mouth. at their annual dental examination, your equine vet will perform a procedure commonly known as 'floating.'
Floating is essentially the grinding down of the points or your horse's teeth with a tool that looks like a large Dremel.
Floating helps to remove the sharp enamel points from your horse's teeth, smoothing them out, correcting malocclusion, and helping to address other dental problems. Floating is often performed under sedation, to limit the amount of anxiety or stress put on your horse, and to allow your equine vet the opportunity to achieve optimal results from the process without resistance or fuss from your equine friend.
Age & Your Horses Teeth
Your horse's age will impact the level of dental care they may need. Once an overall examination has been completed, your vet will have a better understanding of your horse's needs. Some typical effects of age on the dental health of horses include:
- Foals should be examined shortly after birth and often during the first year to diagnose and correct congenital dental issues.
- Horses going into training for the first time need a comprehensive dental check-up before training begins to prevent training problems related to sharp teeth.
- Horses aged 2 to 5 years may require more frequent dental exams because deciduous teeth are softer than permanent teeth and may develop sharp enamel points more quickly.
- Mature horses should get a thorough dental examination at least annually to maintain correct dental alignment and to diagnose dental problems.
- Horses 17 years old or older are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease. This painful disease must be diagnosed early for successful treatment. Beyond the age of 20, the tooth surfaces may be worn excessively and/or unevenly, and dental alignment correction may be impossible.