The Importance of Maintaining the Health of Your Horse's Mouth

The Importance of Maintaining the Health of Your Horse’s Mouth

Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Allison Price

Your horse’s health is dependent on regular dental care. Regular maintenance such as flossing and periodic examinations are essential today for many reasons.

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Through confinement and domestication, we have changed the horse’s eating and diet.

We expect more from our horses. We start at a younger age than ever .

Many times, we do not consider dental considerations when selecting breeding animals.

Proper dental care is a good investment. Horses will live longer, be more comfortable, use feed more efficiently, and perform better.

The Importance of Maintaining the Health of Your Horse's Mouth

THE HORSE’S MOUTH

Horses were created to graze animals and their teeth have been perfectly designed for this purpose. The forward teeth (also known as incisors) are used to cut forage. With their flat, flat, and graveled surfaces, the cheek teeth (including the molars, premolars, and molars) can grind the feed into a mash, before it is swallowed.

Horses get two sets of teeth per lifetime, just like humans. These baby teeth are also known as deciduous teeth and are temporary. Before the foal’s birth, the first deciduous incisors might erupt. When the horse turns eight months old, the last baby teeth will appear. Around age 2 1/2, these teeth are replaced by adult teeth. Most horses have all their permanent teeth by age 5. A male adult horse can have 40 permanent teeth. Because mares are more likely to have canine or bridle teeth, they may have 36-40 permanent teeth.

Below is a chart that shows approximate ages when different teeth will erupt. It can help you identify potential problems in your horse’s teething. The Official Guide to Determining the Age of the Horse published by the AAEP provides more information.

Deciduous. (Baby Teeth).
1st incisors (centrals)First week or birth
2nd Incisors (intermediates).4-6 weeks
Third incisors (corners).6-9 Months
1st, 2nd, & 3rd premolars (cheek teeth)All premolars: Birth or the first 2 weeks
Permanent (Adult Tooth)
1st incisors (centrals)2 1/2 years
2nd Incisors (intermediates).3 1/2 years
Third incisors (corners).4 1/2 Years
Canines (bridle)4-5 Years
1st Premolar: Wolf teeth5-6 Months
2nd Premolars (1st Cheeks)2 1/2 years
3rd Premolars (2nd Cheek Teeth)3 years
4th premolars (3rd cheek teeth)4 years
1st molars (4th cheek teeth)9-12 Months
2nd molars (5th set of cheek teeth).2 years
3rd molars (6th cheek teeth)3 1/2 to 4 years

COMMON DENTAL PROBLEMS

Many dental issues can affect horses. These are the most common:

  • Sharp enamel points can form on cheek teeth, causing irritation to the cheeks and lacerations to the tongue.
  • Retained caps (deciduous, not-shaven teeth)
  • Bit contact with the wolf’s teeth can cause discomfort
  • Hooks form on the upper and lower cheeks
  • Interfering with the insertion and removal of the bit are long, sharp (bridle), canine teeth.
  • Broken and/or lost teeth
  • Uneven or abnormal bite planes
  • Too many worn-out teeth
  • Teeth that are abnormally long
  • Infected gums and teeth
  • Poor alignment/misalignment (can result from congenital defects, injury, or misalignment)
  • Periodontal (gum disease)

RECOGNIZING DENTAL PROBLEMS

Horses suffering from dental problems can show signs such as pain, irritation, or even no obvious signs. Some horses will simply adjust to their discomfort. Periodic dental exams are therefore essential. The following are indicators of problems with your teeth:

  • Excessive salivation, loss of feed from the mouth when eating, difficulty chewing or loss of food.
  • A decline in body condition
  • In manure, large or undigested feed particles (long stems and whole grains) are included
  • Head tilting, tossing and bit chewing, tongue lolling, tongue lisping, resisting bridling are all examples
  • Poor performance includes lugging on the horse bridle, failure to turn or stop, and even bucking
  • Foul odor in the nostrils or mouth, or trace of blood in the mouth
  • Nasal discharge, swelling, or bruising of the jaw, face, or mouth tissues

An annual veterinarian physical exam should include an oral examination. Routine preventative maintenance can be performed at every dental exam. You will be a happier horse and more comfortable.

PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE & FLOATING

A veterinarian should include an oral exam as part of their annual physical examination. Routine preventative maintenance can be performed with every dental exam. You will be a happier horse and more comfortable.

“Floating” was a term used to describe routine maintenance of horses’ teeth. Floating is used to remove the sharp enamel points. Occlusal Equilibration refers to the process of balancing the dental arches, smoothing out the enamel points and fixing other common dental problems. Before any dental procedure, a complete oral exam should be done.

Horses graze almost constantly when they are out in pasture, picking up dirt and other grit. The silicate in grass and dirt can cause tooth decay. However, horses that are stabled may not be able to give their teeth the same exercise. Scheduled feedings, which do not include continuous feedings, are more likely to include processed grains and hays. You will need to chew less on soft feeds. This can cause horses’ teeth to grow too long or wear unevenly. Chewing can reduce the amount of adult teeth that erupt during life.

Sharp points develop along the edges and cheeks of the horse’s cheek teeth because the horse has lower cheek teeth than the upper ones. Points develop on the tongue side (cheek side), of the upper teeth, and the cheek side of the lower teeth. To prevent injury and ulceration to the cheeks or tongue, these points should be smoothed.

Routine examinations and corrections are especially important for horses with missing teeth or teeth that aren’t wearing correctly due to misalignment. Hooks may form if either the front or last of the cheek teeth are not in alignment.

If left untreated, hooks can grow too long or be so sharp that they cause damage to soft tissue. Hand instruments can be used to correct short hooks and other malocclusions. Motorized instruments can be used to correct tall malocclusions. Motorized instruments are replacing molar cutters, chisels and molar chisels due to the lower risk of tooth damage. Tall malocclusions might require multiple treatments over 12-18 months.

WOLF TETH

Wolf teeth are small, elongated teeth that are located just in front of the second molar. They are rarely found in the lower jaw. One to four wolf teeth may be present in a horse’s lower jaw. Although not all wolf teeth can be problematic, veterinarians will routinely remove them to avoid pain and interference with the bit.

THE AGE FACTOR

The amount of care and frequency required for dental health depends on the horse’s age. These are some of the points to consider:

  • To diagnose and correct congenital abnormalities in the teeth of foals (previously present from birth), they should be examined as soon as possible after birth.
  • An enamel point sharp enough to cause damage to cheek tissue and tongue tissue in yearlings has been discovered. They will be more comfortable if they are able to floate.
  • A comprehensive dental exam is required for horses who are starting to train, particularly 2- and 3-year-olds. To remove sharp points, teeth should be floated and any retained caps checked. If caps have not been removed, they should be. To prevent sharp-tooth training problems, it is important to remove caps before the training begins.
  • Older horses may need more frequent dental visits than those aged between 2 and 5 years. The enamel points of deciduous teeth may grow faster than permanent teeth, and they are more brittle than permanent teeth. There is also a lot of dental maturation. Twenty-four of the teeth will be lost and replaced with 36 to 40 adult teeth. Young horses aged between 5 and 6 years old should have their teeth examined twice a year to prevent maleruption.
  • To maintain proper alignment of the teeth and diagnose problems as soon as possible, mature horses should have their teeth examined at least once a year.
  • Periodontal disease is more common in older horses (those over 17 years of age). For a successful treatment, this painful disease must first be identified early. It is also important to keep a horse’s teeth straight during their teens to maintain a functional grinding surface after 20 years. Tooth surfaces can become worn out or unevenly after the age of 20. This may make it difficult to correct dental alignment.
  • For horses over 20 years old, it is important to have a dental exam and nutritional counseling at minimum once a year. This will help maintain their health and condition. Many horses can maintain a functional dentition with routine dental care well into their third and fourth decade of life.

DEVELOPING GREATER AWARENESS

  • Dental problems can be a possible cause of abnormal behavior in horses.
  • It is important to correct any abnormalities and keep your teeth clean and floppy as needed.
  • To prevent any interference with the bit or its associated pain, wolf teeth are regularly extracted from performance horses.
  • Local anesthetics and analgesics are all options to relax horses and make them more comfortable during dental procedures, such as floating. These drugs should only be administered by a veterinarian.
  • A veterinarian is the best person to perform most equine dental procedures (including basic floating) that irreversibly alter horses’ teeth.
  • Your equine practitioner may remove a tooth that is loose. This can reduce the risk of infection and other problems.
  • Canine teeth are usually found in mature geldings or stallions. They can be rounded and smoothened. This is done to avoid interference with the bit, and to decrease the chance of injury to the horse and the handler as well as other horses that are pastured or stabled with him.
  • It may take more than one visit to your horse’s equine practitioner depending on the state of your horse’s teeth.
  • It is crucial to recognize problems with your teeth as soon as possible. Too long delay can make it more difficult to correct certain conditions, or even impossible.

SERIOUS DENTAL AILMENTS

There are serious dental conditions that can occur, including infections of the gums and teeth, overgrowths and long hooks on the cheeks and loss or fractured teeth. These conditions can require specialist dental care or extraction by a qualified veterinarian. If necessary, your equine practitioner will recommend the best treatment and refer your horse to a specialist in dental care.

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