With 36 to 44 chances for a toothache, equine dental care isn’t just a should-do but a yearly must-do – and picking the right dentist for your horses is a delicate matter not to be taken lightly. As your mother (or father) used to say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” A horse’s teeth literally begin to erupt in the first few days of life, and a horse should be seen for problems at any age, as young as 6 months old.
Horses’ teeth are called hypsodont teeth (having high or deep crowns and short roots, as in the molar teeth of a horse) that continue to erupt throughout a horse’s lifetime until the teeth are worn down to nothing. Taking care of a geriatric horse is a challenge unto itself, involving mashes, supplements and vigilance.
The goal of equine dentistry isn’t much different from human dentistry: perfecting what nature gave the horse, from crooked teeth to dental decay. Wild horses forage 16 to 18 hours a day under normal conditions, which allows their teeth to grind together and wear down the front teeth evenly, as well as the molars.
Because we often stall and feed horses, changing their natural grazing habits, their teeth often don’t wear the same, creating sharp points that can create problems. The front teeth can also wear unevenly, which can inhibit the proper intake and digestion of their food.
As horse owners, it’s part of our responsibility to see that our horses’ needs are met, and the most important aspect of equine dentistry is prevention. Tooth loss in a horse is permanent. With regular check-ups, an equine dentist can find and correct other dental issues that can crop up as well, such as abscesses, ulcers, missing teeth, loose teeth, infected teeth or gums, periodontal disease, misalignment and abnormally long teeth.
Horses that pull on the bit, shake their heads while being ridden, duck at the barrel or just act like they’ve never been trained (when you know better) may be having dental issues.
The horse that has in the past traveled with wonderful collection might begin to avoid a proper headset, or refuse a jump that has never been refused before. Often, with symptoms like these, the rider will check the saddle, change the bit, work the horse harder or even see a veterinarian about lameness issues, but often, it is really as simple as a toothache (or cheek-ache).
Continue reading this America's Horse Daily update on equine dentistry.
Photo: Equine dental care is a must-do. Journal photo.