Hands up if you enjoy a visit with the dentist. That’s what we thought. Dental work can cause distress for your horse as well.
For this reason, we invest in the latest dentistry power equipment – and always use the most suitable float and other dental instruments for the job.
At Allossery Equine, our goal is to provide affordable, high-quality dental care, with the least amount of discomfort to your animal. We believe routine dental care is essential for maintaining good health and supporting peak performance in all types of equine athletes.
Understanding the horse’s mouth
Horses are grazing animals, a fact reflected in the construction of their mouths. The front teeth, known as incisors, are designed to shear off forage. The cheek teeth – the premolars and molars – have wide, flat, grinding surfaces to reduce feed to mash before it is swallowed.
Like humans, horses have baby teeth and adult teeth. Baby teeth begin to be replaced by adult teeth around age 2 or 3.
However, unlike human teeth, adult horse teeth never stop growing. In the wild, nature managed this continuous growth through the horse’s diet, which consisted primarily of coarse grasses. Eating these grasses requires a robust chewing motion that grinds down the enamel, thus balancing growth with wear.
The range of motion of the mandible (lower jaw) during mastication is affected by the nature and size of the food particles ingested. Horses on concentrate and pelleted diets exhibit a limited range of jaw motion when chewing compared to horses on grass and long-stemmed hay roughage.
The jaw excursion pattern has an effect on molar tooth wear and could explain why confined horses seem to have more problems with development of enamel points and other dental abnormalities.
Why routine dental care is essential for horses
Domestication and confinement of horses has led to modifications in their diets and eating patterns. Also, breeding of horses is carried out with little or no regard for the genetic dental consequences. Finally, greater demands are being placed on performance horses beginning at a younger age, and horses are living and performing longer than their wild counterparts.
These factors add up and can create increased risk for a number of dental health problems.
What to look for:
- Sharp enamel points – Normally, contact by opposing teeth helps keep bite surfaces equal. If cheek teeth get out of alignment, hooks can form and cause trauma and pain to the tongue, cheeks and soft or hard palates.
- Wave mouth – Some horses have an unbalanced mouth, with teeth that vary in height along the dental arcade. Wave mouth can cause certain teeth to improperly take more impact than others as the horse chews, potentially leading to early tooth loss or decay.
- Incisor overgrowth – Domesticated horses tend not to use their incisors enough, resulting in incisor overgrowth.
Retained premolar caps in juvenile horses – As a horse’s teeth transition from baby to adult teeth, retained caps of the baby teeth can occasionally cause problems by putting more strain on the apposing tooth.
- Periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay – Like humans, horses can suffer from inflammation and disease of their gums, as well as calculus buildup and tooth decay.
- Damaged teeth – Teeth can be damaged by direct trauma and chronic dental disease.
How to keep your horse’s teeth healthy
Yearly oral examinations and routine dental maintenance, such as floating, will ensure that your horse’s bite remains healthy and that food is being ground evenly for proper swallowing and digestion.
Most adult horses will need their teeth floated once a year. Some performance horses and some senior horses may require teeth floating more frequently – as often as twice a year.
From time to time, we see horses that go more than 12 months between floatings. These horses generally have more than average access to pasture grasses or they naturally exhibit superior conformation of their jaws.
Floating & preventative maintenance
In order to perform a thorough oral examination of your horse, it is generally necessary to administer a sedative. Next, we apply a speculum to fully open the animal’s mouth. This allows us to inspect each tooth individually to identify any problems, particularly in those hard-to-feel cheek teeth towards the back of the mouth.
You would be amazed at how far back in the mouth the teeth go! At this stage, we can show you the state of your horse’s mouth and discuss any issues. If necessary, we will recommend that you have your horse’s teeth floated.
The process of grinding down a horse’s teeth is known as floating. Floating eliminates painful enamel points and creates a more even bite plane. Due to the continuous growth of adult horse teeth, regular floating is especially important in horses who have lost a tooth or whose teeth are poorly aligned. Having a veterinarian take care of your horse’s dentistry needs ensures that:
- Your companion receives appropriate sedation and analgesia, administered by a licensed professional.
- The correct dental equipment is used, and it is applied in an appropriate manner.
- Medication required by your horse is properly prescribed and administered.
Recognizing dental problems
As a horse owner, you can learn to spot dental issues, particularly by paying attention to your animal’s eating habits and bit responsiveness. But while some horses with dental problems show obvious signs of pain, the reality is that many horses simply adapt to their discomfort.
Your first clue that something is wrong could be loss of weight or under-performance during competition.
Indicators of dental problems include:
Loss of feed from mouth while chewing, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation
- Loss of body condition
- Large or undigested feed particles in manure (long stems, whole grains)
- Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, tongue lolling, fighting the bit or resisting bridling
- Degrading performance, failing to stop or turn, even bucking
- Foul odour from the mouth or nostrils
- Blood traces in the mouth
- Presence of nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw or mouth.
It’s important to remember that normal eating patterns, bit responsiveness and weight maintenance are positive signs, but they’re no guarantee your horse isn’t suffering from dental disease.
Performing an oral examination is the only way to be certain. By working together, we can detect and treat dental problems before outward symptoms appear. Your horse will thank you for it!
Wolf teeth are very small teeth that have short roots and are located in front of the second premolars. They rarely show up in the lower jaw. A horse may have one, two or no wolf teeth.
Because wolf teeth never provide a health benefit and some wolf teeth cause harm, we usually recommend removing them to prevent pain or interference from a bit.
Oral (Dental) Endoscopy
Horses have a long, narrow oral cavity, which can create challenges when we perform dental exams or procedures such as dental cleaning, floating and extractions. Our oral endoscope features a miniature camera that allows us to see the various structures within your horse’s oral cavity – including the cheek teeth, gingiva, tongue and cheeks – in great detail.
The camera image appears on our computer monitor in real time, so you, as the client, can see what we’re seeing. This enables you to make more informed decisions on behalf of your horse.
In addition, we’re able to save photos and videos from your horse’s exams and procedures for future use, such as a follow-up examination or consult with other veterinarians.