The Importance of Maintaining The Health Of Your Horse's Mouth
Routine dental care is essential to your horse's health. Periodic examinations and regular maintenance, such as floating, are especially necessary today for a number of reasons:
- We have modified the horse's diet and eating patterns through domestication and confinement.
- We demand more from our performance horses, beginning at a younger age, than ever before.
- We often select breeding animals without regard to dental considerations.
THE HORSE'S MOUTHHorses evolved as grazing animals, and their teeth are perfectly adapted for that purpose. The forward teeth, known as incisors, function to shear off forage. The cheek teeth, including the molars and premolars with their wide, flat, graveled surfaces, easily grind the feed to a mash before it is swallowed.
Like humans, horses get two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth, are temporary The first deciduous incisors may erupt before the foal is born. The last baby teeth come in when the horse is about 8 months of age. These teeth begin to be replaced by adult teeth around age 2 1/2. By age 5, most horses have their full complement of permanent teeth. An adult male horse has 40 Permanent teeth. A mare may have between 36-40, because mares are less likely to have canine (bridle) teeth.
The following chart shows the approximate ages at which different teeth erupt. By referring to it, you may detect potential abnormalities of your own horse associated with teething. For more information, refer to the Official Guide for Determining The Age of the Horse, published by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
|Deciduous (Baby Teeth)|
|Ist incisors(centrals)||Birth or 1st week|
|2nd incisors (intermediates)||4 - 6 weeks|
|3rd incisors (corners)||6 - 9 months|
|Ist, 2nd, & 3rd premolars
|Birth or first 2 weeks for all premolars|
|Permanent (Adult Teeth)|
|1st incisors (centrals)||2 1/2 years|
|2nd incisors (intermediates)||3 1/2 years|
|3rd incisors (corners)||4 1/2 years|
|Canines (bridle)||4 - 5 years|
|Wolf teeth (Ist premolars)||5 - 6 months|
|2nd premolars (Ist cheek teeth)||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 cheek teeth)||2 years|
|3rd molars (6th cheek teeth)||3 1/2 - 4 years|
COMMON DENTAL PROBLEMSHorses may suffer from many dental problems. The most common include:
- Sharp enamel points forming on cheek teeth, causing lacerations of cheeks and tongue
- Retained caps (deciduous teeth that are not shed)
- Discomfort caused by bit contact with the wolf teeth
- Hooks forming on the upper and lower cheek teeth
- Long and/or sharp canine (bridle) teeth interfering with the insertion or removal of the bit
- Lost and / or broken teeth
- Abnormal or uneven bite planes
- Excessively worn teeth
- Abnormally long teeth
- Infected teeth and / or gums
- Misalignment / poor apposition (can be due to congenital defects or injury)
- Periodontal (gum) disease
RECOGNIZING DENTAL PROBLEMSHorses with dental problems may show obvious signs, such as pain or irritation, or they may show no noticeable signs at all. That is due to the fact that some horses simply adapt to their discomfort. For this reason, periodic dental examinations are essential. Indicators of dental problems include:
- Loss of feed from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation
- Loss of body condition
- Large or undigested feed particles (long stems or whole grain) in manure
- Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit, or resisting bridling
- Poor performance, such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, even bucking
- Foul odor from mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood from the mouth
- Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw, or mouth tissues
FLOATING & PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCEThe process of rasping or filing a horse's teeth is known as floating. This is the most common dental procedure veterinarians perform on horses. Floating removes sharp enamel points and call create a more even bite plane. It also helps keep incisors and cheek teeth at a desirable length.
When turned out on pasture, horses browse almost continuously, picking up dirt and grit in the process, This, plus the silicate in grass, wears down the teeth. Stabled horses, however, may not give their teeth the same workout. Feedings are more apt to be scheduled, not continuous, and to include processed grains and hays. Softer feeds require less chewing. This may allow the horse's teeth to become excessively long or to wear unevenly. Adult horse's teeth erupt throughout their life and are worn off by chewing.
Unfortunately, cheek teeth tend to develop sharp enamel points even under normal grazing conditions. Because the horse's lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw and the horse grinds its feed with a sideways motion, sharp points tend to form along the edges. Points form on the cheek side of the upper teeth and the tongue side of the lower teeth. These points should be rasped to Prevent them from cutting the cheeks and tongue.
Floating is especially important in horses who have lost a tooth, or whose teeth are in poor apposition and do not fit together well. Normally, contact with the apposing tooth keeps biting surfaces equal. When cheek teeth are out of alignment, hooks can form.
If left unchecked, these hooks call become long enough to Penetrate the hard or soft palate. Small hooks can be removed by floating. Longer hooks are usually removed with molar cutters or a dental chisel.
WOLF TEETHWolf teeth are very small teeth located in front of the second premolar and do not have long roots that set them firmly in the jaw bone. They rarely appear in the lower jaw A horse may have one, two, or no wolf teeth. While not all wolf teeth are troublesome, veterinarians routinely remove them to prevent pain or interference from a bit.
THE AGE FACTORThe age of a horse affects the degree of attention and frequency of dental care required. Consider these points:
DEVELOPING GREATER AWARENESS
MORE SERIOUS DENTAL AILMENTSSerious dental conditions can develop, such as infections of the teeth and gums, extremely long hooks on the molars, lost or fractured teeth, and others. These conditions may require surgical treatment and/or extraction by a veterinarian. Your equine practitioner can recommend the best treatment.