Taking care of your horse's mouth is an important factor for their overall health, happiness, and performance. Today our Gillette vets explain why it's important to get your horse's teeth looked at and the common dental problems that can arise.
About Your Horse's Teeth
Like humans, horses 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 their entire life. They also chew their food by moving their jaws from side to side in a figure 8 motion. The combination of these two factors results in the development of sharp points along the outside of the upper cheek teeth and along the inside of the lower cheek teeth. Over the course of a year, these points can develop enough to begin to damage the soft tissues in the mouth as your horse chews. Horses can also have dental abnormalities or poor dental conformation which will continually get worse if not addressed frequently.§
Common Dental Issues For Horses
Horses can 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 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 Your Horse Is Having Dental Problems
If your horse is experiencing dental issues, they will likely display some of the following signs:
- 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 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, even bucking
You know your horse better than anyone, so if they start showing signs or behaviors that are unlike them, then it may be time to schedule a dental appointment with our experienced equine and large animal vets at Red Hills Veterinary Hospital.
What Can Be Done To Correct This?
Having your veterinarian out to check your horse's teeth should ideally happen once a year, your Gillette equine or large animal veterinarian will perform what is commonly called 'floating.' Essentially they will be grinding down the points with a tool that looks like a large dremel.
Floating removes the sharp enamel points, smoothing out the teeth, correcting malocclusion, and correcting other dental problems. this is often performed under sedation, to limit the amount of stress put on your horse, and allow your equine vet the best opportunity to get their teeth fully taken care of without resistance.
Does My Horse's Age Affect Their Teeth?
Your horse's age does impact the level of care they may need. Once examined, your vet will have a better understanding of their needs. Here are some typical effects age has on dental care.
- 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.