How do I know if my Horse’s teeth are healthy?
Some horse owners forget the importance of their horse’s teeth until it is too late. Therefore it is vital for horse owners to be aware of their horse’s dental in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and expense. For this reason, we recommend that horse owners know how to generally check on the teeth of their equine companions. In addition to doing it yourself, it is encouraged that dental checkups are given by a specialist twice yearly.
How to check the health of a Horse’s teeth
Owners can tell if there horse has a dental problem if they are having difficulties chewing, if there are lumps of hay or grass in the cheeks or if the horse cannot take to the bit. Additionally, the horse may salivate more than usual. The horse may eat more slowly than normal or pass manure that is coarse.
Horse’s mouths can be checked in case of sores and bleeding. Sharp points can also be checked for by palpating the cheeks. Additionally, the breath may have an unpleasant odour which may be a sign of infection. This is also true if there is an oedema of the face of if there is daily nasal discharge. Care must be taken when check teeth and fingers should not be placed inside the mouth.
Tooth Growth in Horses
Horse’s teeth continually grow and so need to be watched in case of overgrowth or malformation. As the horse chews, the grinding surface of certain teeth is worn down. These are the incisors, molars and premolars. Elderly horses may have teeth that have their crowns completely worn down or even missing.
These teeth are found in the front of a horse’s mouth. At the age of five, horses have twelve incisors. Equine incisors are used to slice through grass when grazing. It has been suggested that these teeth must remain level.
Horse Cheek Teeth or Molars
Horses, at the age of five, should have twelve premolars and twelve molars. These are used more grinding food. This is the physical breakdown of food which is one of the first steps of the digestive process.
These teeth are sometimes called tusks and not all horses have them. In most cases, it is the male horses which are known to have these teeth although less than a third of mares may have them. Male horses tend to have four or five canine teeth and if found in mares then they usually only have one or two and these are often only partially erupted.
Once again not all horses have wolf teeth although those that do can have a maximum of four. Another name for these is vestigial premolars. These are often found in the upper jaw and are, more often than not, removed as they can interfere with contact with the bit.
What problems can Horse have with their teeth?
If incorrectly cared for, or even through sheer bad luck, horse owners may find their horse to have one or more of the many dental health problems they can commonly become affected by. Most problems can be treated if caught in time although this should be done so as soon as possible in order to disallow any decrease in the horse or pony’s quality of life.
This problem is sometimes referred to as sharp points and occurs as a result of restricted sideways movement of the horse’s chewing action. As a result, the edge of the inside of the lower molars or outside of the upper molars becomes sharper. These can be extremely sharp and therefore painful on the gums. This is easily treated by having a vet file down these points.
If there is a gap or space between two teeth then this is known as a diastema. Due to the fact that food material can trap itself in these abnormal areas then gum disease can result. Correcting this malformation can be very difficult and is not always a possibility.
Another problem that can affect horses is known as Parrot Mouth and it has been suggested to be a genetic defect. This is where the lower jaw is shorter in length than the upper jaw. This can become very severe where the upper incisors actually hang over the lower jaw. As a result the growing teeth cannot become naturally worn. The hard palate can be affected as the lower incisors painfully grow into it. This malady leads to an inability to graze on short grass. Cheek teeth may also be affected and thus be very painful as a result of the misalignment.
Horses with parrot mouth require regular dental checkups to prevent overgrowth. The horse will need attention for this condition throughout its life and thus allow it to live a close to normal life.
The molar arcade can develop an uneven surface which is known as wave mouth due to the appearance of waves on the surface. Horses that are affected cannot grind their food normally as the side to side movement of the jaw is restricted. High complexes should be reduced in these cases in order to encourage the horse to chew more normally.
How can I keep my Horse’s teeth healthy?
Horse’s teeth can be kept healthy by having them checked by a specialist, a veterinarian or dental specialist, twice a year. Older horses may require more regular checkups and this is also true for horses with abnormal teeth such as Parrot Mouth, or even very young foals. At the very least, the horse must have at least one check up a year. Never allow unqualified persons to treat horse’s teeth. Floating may be a requirement every year, depending on the horse. The points of teeth should be filed smooth if necessary and checked for wear or diastema.
Diet is a vital part of equine dental care. Food that is not hard enough leads to overgrowth and the subsequent problems. Roughage such as hay or grass is needed, especially to wear down the incisors. However, if feed is too hard then the teeth may wear down two quickly. Food should be checked for foreign material which could chip the teeth. When using a twitch or applying a bit, ensure that the teeth are not knocked as this can also lead to various problems.