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Horses need regular preventive dental maintenance every six months to yearly. Unlike people, horses’ teeth have an eruption rate of 2 to 3 mm per year. The teeth should wear in correspondence to yearly eruption rate. Malocclusions, or improper position of the teeth, can lead to many health issues and behavioral problems.
Dentistry is an aspect of horse management that’s often overlooked. Horse owners should remember the value of an annual dental checkup. Checking for uneven teeth wear beginning as a yearling and once a year thereafter is a sound practice. Proper teeth care benefits both the horse and owner. A well functioning mouthful of teeth allows better utilization of feed while chewing, thereby reducing feed expenses. This can help maintain better condition and general health, help prevent colic and esophageal choke and can greatly improve responsiveness to the bit. Most equine tooth problems involve the cheek teeth of the upper and lower jawbones. These teeth are called premolars and molars.
Horses grind feed with side-to-side and an up-and-down chewing. As a result of the horse’s lower jaw being narrower than its upper jaw and grinding motion during chewing, sharp points tend to form along the edges even in normal horses. Points form on the cheek side of the upper jaw and the tongue side of the lower jaw. On the upper teeth, the outside edge toward the jaw is the unused edge. On the bottom teeth, the inside edge toward the tongue will be unused. This uneven grinding surface causes an inefficiency in grinding feed. Over time, unused sharp edges can elongate and cause malocclusion, irritation and lacerations to the gums. These cuts in the cheeks and gums ( sores and ulcers) often have negative effects on performance while riding. A list of clinical signs associated with dental problems includes:
- loss of feed from mouth while eating
- difficulty chewing or excess salivation
- loss of body condition
- large, undigested food particles in manure
- head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue rolling
- fighting the bit or resisting the bridle
- bucking or failing to stop or turn
- foul odor from mouth or nostrils
- traces of blood in mouth
- nasal discharge or facial swelling
Some horses show no noticeable signs because they just simply adapt to their discomfort. Waiting too long for treatment may increase the treatment needed or may even make remedy impossible, resulting in tooth loss
The relatively simple and inexpensive practice of dental floating/equilibration removes the sharp edges from the cheek teeth along the upper and lower jaws and adjusts the occlusal surfaces as necessary. The goal of floating is to maintain the symmetry and balance of the arcade and to allow free chewing motion. A dental exam also provides the opportunity to perform preventative medical & dental maintenance procedures and avoid having relatively minor problems become serious in the future. At the same time bit seats are contoured to ensure maximal responsiveness to the bit. Now is the perfect time to have your horse checked before the hard winter season arrives.