15 min read
As horses age, their teeth continue growing to replace the tooth material worn away by chewing. In some cases, the combination of continued growth and wear and tear results in an unusual tooth shape. As horse owners, we need to be aware of the implications of this cycle, what dental problems are likely to occur as a result, and what we can do to prevent severe complications of dental disease. Read on if you’ve ever asked the questions:
Because a horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout their entire life, they require regular dental care to prevent potential problems and resolve conditions before they start affecting overall health. Understanding the issues commonly found in a horse’s teeth and scheduling regular dental exams can help keep your horse healthy at every stage of their life.
There are many ways to use your horse's mouth as a clue for what is happening with them. By examining your horse’s teeth, you can identify any discomfort they may have and even determine their age. Dental care is a top priority in horse ownership, and understanding how your equine friend uses their teeth will help you better facilitate their needs.
Horses are grazing animals whose teeth have adapted for that exact function. The front teeth, which are called incisors, are used to shear off forage. The cheek teeth (molars and premolars) are wide, flat, graveled surfaces used to grind the feed to mash before swallowing.
Like humans, horses have two complete sets of teeth during their lifetime — baby teeth, also known as deciduous teeth, and adult teeth. By eight months of age, young horses are expected to have all of their deciduous teeth grown in (erupted) and functional. Adult teeth replace the baby teeth at around two and a half years of age. By the age of five most horses have all of their permanent teeth. Males have 40 adult teeth, and mares have 36 to 40. This difference between the sexes is due to the fact that mares sometimes do not have canine teeth (longer teeth on either side of the incisors).
The length and shape of the teeth can help determine the age of your horse. This is because as a horse grows older, the teeth wear in a fashion that correlates with age. The variation in each tooth, such as wear marks, the presence or absence of baby teeth, shape, and grooves, all help tell us how old our horse may be. This method of aging a horse based on dental evidence becomes less accurate as the horse ages due to differences in lifestyle, diet, and individual factors. Since horse teeth grow continuously for life, horses require diligent, regular dental care to keep up with their oral health.
An oral examination is a crucial element of a horse's annual physical checkup by a vet. During a dental exam, routine preventive measures will keep your horse's mouth healthy and comfortable. Regular maintenance of a horse's teeth is called floating. Routine floating removes sharp enamel points, corrects malocclusion, and balances dental arcades and other issues.
Many horses spend the majority of their time in pasture, grazing continuously, picking up dirt and grit all day long. These soil components, as well as the silicate in the grass, wear teeth down over time. Stabled horses do not wear their teeth down evenly or as fast because they are usually fed once or twice a day and may have a diet higher in grain than forage. Soft feeds, such as grain, require less chewing, so the teeth of horses with high-grain diets have a tendency to grow too long or have abnormal wear.
In the horse’s mouth, lower cheek teeth are closer together than their upper cheek teeth, which results in uneven wear across the tooth’s chewing surface as the horse eats. In some cases, this will create sharp points along the edges of the cheek teeth. Those sharp points usually appear on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. Routine floating smooths out the points to prevent damage to the inside of the mouth. Misalignment of the teeth also causes them to wear improperly, creating hooks inside the mouth that can tear soft tissue, such as the cheeks and tongue. Short hooks may be treated in one dental float, while taller hooks may require multiple dental care sessions to prevent damage to the tooth.
Since horse teeth have different forms that are growing and wearing at different speeds, problems can arise, hence the need for periodic dental examinations. Here are some of the most common concerns regarding your horse's chompers.
Each of these dental concerns can be treated by your veterinarian. After examining your horse’s teeth, your vet will recommend a course of treatment to correct any problems found or provide preventive treatment to avoid any issues. At a minimum, it is important to keep up with annual dental checkups to avoid major problems with your horse’s teeth.
When a horse has dental problems, it may exhibit several behaviors or show other physical signs that point to an issue that needs to be addressed before it threatens overall health. Here are some signs to watch out for:
Even though this list of dental issue indicators in equine animals may seem overwhelming, it is crucial to identify these signs in your horse. The better you know and understand your horse, the sooner you can tell when something is off. Early detection and treatment define the best course to ensure outcomes and keep your horse happy and in top performance.
Equine dental needs shift with age. As a result, the priorities of dental care for horses evolve as they progress through different life stages, so routine dental examinations focus on different needs every couple of years. Here is how horse teeth and dental needs change throughout their life:
"Keeping up with proper dental care throughout all stages of your horse's life has great benefits," says Dr. Madison Ricard, an equine veterinarian at Vetster. "Your horse will digest feed more efficiently, maintain weight and condition better, and may even live a longer life.” Taking care of your horse’s specific needs, whether it is retained baby teeth or tooth alignment in a senior horse, will help them progress and live peacefully as they age.
A horse's mouth can tell us a lot, whether regarding their age, physical health, or a clue into their behavioral issues. Dental hygiene is one of the many important aspects of healthcare in the equine world, so for any questions or concerns regarding your horse's mouth, book an online virtual care appointment today at Vetster to keep them at ease and eating comfortably all day long.
Horses require regular dental maintenance throughout their life. Left untreated, dental problems can cause tooth root abscesses and other serious infections, which may be life-threatening if allowed to continue.
A horse needs a dental examination and routine float at least once a year. However, considering your horse's age, breed, history, and performance, every six months may be necessary.
Sedatives are not something to worry about as long as a veterinarian is the one administering them.
Sedatives, local anesthetic, and analgesics can relax a horse so it is comfortable while the veterinarian floats their teeth or performs other dental procedures. Only a veterinarian should administer sedative medications. Rarely, horses may have adverse reactions to sedative medications, which can typically be treated quickly by the veterinarian.
If your horse is dealing with dental problems, it can significantly affect their behavior in the riding ring. Having a bit in their mouth creates friction on the mouth and teeth which could cause poor performance. For example, if there is an infection or sharp enamel points, they may resist the bit or excessively shake their heads while riding.
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