Friday, May 14, 2010

posted by Dr. James G. Hood
Friday, May 14, 2010

Horses Have Teeth Too!

As a dentist, I treat people with tooth problems daily.  Routine maintenance and regular check-ups are the best way to ensure good oral health in people.  Horses, likewise, can have tooth problems, and routine maintenance, and regular check-ups are the best insurance for good equine oral health.

Frequently, I see people with a broken or abscessed tooth.  These people can often not function at all in their job, and frequently can’t even carry on normal conversation.  Pain creates bizarre behaviors.  How many of you have seen or experienced tooth pain?  Yet, the oral health of horses is most probably the least well-treated overall area in equine health.

We expect horses with tooth problems to focus on the task at hand.  How?  Horses with sharp interfering cusps on their teeth we expect to ride without head tossing, rearing, resisting the bridle, tongue lolling, or going on the bit.  Why, if the human species with a tooth problem can exhibit poor performance, do we expect the equine species to exhibit anything other than poor performance?

The horse evolved as a grazing animal, and the best food source for horses in natural grass.  Horses were designed for continuous mastication (grass, hay, or stall!).

As horses became domesticated, grass is not always available and hay has become necessary to keep horses.  This is the second-best method to good equine nutrition, and grain is third.

Wear on the teeth of horses is affected by these changing diets of the horse – grass, hay, and grain.  A grazing animal will use and wear its front teeth more than a stalled hay and grain-fed animal.  Maintenance, therefore, will be different.

Equine dentistry encompasses all aspects of the oral health in horses.  In the past, horses with bad teeth were eliminated by natural selection.  Today, a well-maintained horse’s dentition can extend the life of that horse for decades!

How do you recognize dental problems in a horse?  This is a good question, and I’ll answer it first with a statement.  Riders should be feeders.  Observe your equine regularly while eating.  Problems are:

  1. Change in chewing habits
  2. Loss of body condition
  3. Undigested feed particles in manure
  4. Foul odor from the mouth or nostrils
  5. Discharge from the mouth or nostrils
  6. Swellings of the face, jaw, or mouth tissue

If you notice any of these points, please contact an equine dentist for your horse immediately.  You will be rewarded by having a happy and well-behaved horse.

Begin early with oral examinations.  On humans, a good rule of thumb is:  Brush your teeth twice a day, and see your dentist twice a year.  With horses, the twice-a-year vet or equine dentist check-ups are a good idea through age 5 (when they have a full complement of equine teeth).  After age 5, once a year for most horses is adequate.

The most common dental problems in horses include:

  1. Sharp enamel points
  2. Retained caps (primary teeth are lost at approximately 2-4 years of age)
  3. Discomfort from wolf teeth (a.k.a. exposed and blind teeth)
  4. Missing or broken teeth (stallions get kicked)
  5. Abnormal wear of occlusal surface
  6. Infected teeth or gums
  7. Misalignment due to congenital defect or injury

Older horses, in colder climates, often will colic due to cold water sensitivity on worn teeth.  The cold sensitivity causes them to drink less, so be aware and provide warm water for your horses in the wintertime.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate that teeth, human or equine, and their regular care and maintenance are very important to overall health.  If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right.  Observe your horse frequently.

Horses have teeth too!

Dr. James G. Hood

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