Over the years, you may have wondered whether regular dental treatment is actually a necessity for your horse.
Well, the simple answer is, yes! Absolutely! And Iʼm not just saying this because I am an equine dentist!
When I began my training, I examined many horses who were only 6 or so months overdue for their regular check ups, and many of these horses (over 50%) had lacerations to the tongue and cheeks due to sharp points which had not been dealt with in a timely fashion.
When the time came to use my own horses as ʻpracticeʼ, I was shocked at the sharpness which had developed, and their treatment was only 4 months overdue.
You may not know your horse needs treatment until he is in extreme discomfort. Horses have a tendency to keep discomfort and pain to themselves, being prey animals, they are designed to ʻput up and shut upʼ. You may notice your horse is dropping feed, lagging on one rein when being ridden, or just been generally miserable and/or uncooperative. At this point, donʼt hesitate. Get a check up! Even if no problems are found, it is important to cross dental issues off the list early as a cause of behavioural concerns.
Equine teeth were designed to eat long, wild grasses, not short fibers such as todayʼs chaff and processed feeds. As a result of this, I see an array of problems that really canʼt be helped by anything other than regular dental treatment.
Horses have between 36 and 42 teeth-
- 12 incisors which allow biting and tearing of grass
- 24 molars used for grinding feed, of which the first 12 erupt as deciduous or ʻbabyʼ teeth
- 4 canine teeth which erupt at about 5 years of age and are usually absent in mares
- 2 small wolf teeth which sit just in front of the first upper molars, these teeth are usually extracted as they can cause future bitting issues. They do not occur in all horses.
A horse is known as a ʻhypsodontʼ, in other words, the teeth are high crowned and possess enamel which extends past the gum. The horse erupts about 10-15cm of tooth in a lifetime, hence the over filing of teeth can be disastrous to a horse later in life.
Due to the conditions in which we keep our horses today, ie: stables, hard feed, grass sewn by hand etc, our horses are unable to grind down their own teeth as they would do in the wild.
Therefore, they very quickly develop sharp points on the lingual aspect (inside) of the lower molars and the buccal aspect (outside) of the upper molars. These points commonly cut the tongue and cheeks causing ulcers and abscesses.
Equine teeth also possess enamel ridges on the occlusal (grinding) surface. These ridges ensure the horseʼs feed and grass is able to be ground up correctly, so it can be swallowed. Unfortunately, I have seen horses whose occlusal surfaces have been over filed to such a degree that they drop feed and have a condition known as ʻsmooth mouthʼ, which may cause these horses to loose teeth prematurely. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest power tools are the main culprit of this problem.