Dentistry is an important, often neglected and misunderstood, part of regular horse care. We can’t see their teeth so we may tend to forget about them or think they are not important.
Dental issues, however, cause pain and may lead to other health and performance problems.
The normal mature horse has 36 to 44 teeth. The incisors and premolars initially are deciduous teeth (baby teeth/caps) replaced by adult teeth. The molars, which are behind the premolars, come in as adult teeth.
Horse teeth grow to their maximum length by about age 7 and continue to erupt in order to replace the tooth lost from hours of chewing very abrasive feeds. Eventually, if the horse lives long enough, the teeth will wear out or be lost.
The physical characteristics of horse teeth lead to frequent dental issues. The most commonly recognized problem is sharp enamel points.
Malocclusions (dental overgrowths), broken teeth, loose teeth and abscessed teeth are frequently diagnosed.
Periodontal disease is also surprisingly prevalent and recognized as the most common cause of equine tooth loss. Studies have shown about 60 percent of horses over the age of 15 have some degree of periodontal disease.
Why is this information important to the horse owner?
First, dental disease is painful and may cause abnormal chewing, decreased feed efficiency, weight loss, and premature tooth loss.
Second, mouth pain can result in performance issues.
Horses that frequently toss their head, resist turning one direction, refuse to take a lead, or have other bitting issues may be experiencing dental pain. Quality dental care often reduces or eliminates these problems.
A thorough oral examination is the basis of quality dentistry. This requires sedation, a full-mouth speculum, bright light and a mirror.
The common “examination” practice of rubbing a finger on the first two cheek teeth is inadequate. That technique is equivalent to your dentist not looking in your mouth, or using a light, and just rubbing a finger around then saying, “Everything is fine.”
Following a complete examination the appropriate dental procedures are performed.
Horses generally should have a dental examination and any required work annually. Horses under 9, especially performance horses, and geriatrics may benefit from more frequent care because their teeth can change quickly.
Please don’t forget about your horse’s teeth, you will both be happier. ❖