Routine dental care should be performed annually by an equine veterinarian.
Horses have up to 44 teeth, and these teeth continue to erupt throughout life. While the teeth are generally worn down through chewing, most horses develop enamel points and hooks as normal patterns of wear. These may require routine floating every year or so, to prevent ulcers developing in the mouth. This also allows teeth to come in contact with each other and create an effective grinding surface for hay and grass. This is important as they spend 10-12 hours a day grazing.
Dental disease occurs most commonly in old horses and may be a cause of weight loss. Dental disease has been shown to be associated with longer fibres of poorly chewed grass or hay in the manure. This in turn, in certain circumstances, may predispose to impactions of the large colon, if the horse is dehydrated, for instances.
Signs that your horse may have dental disease include:
- Reduced feed intake
- ‘Quidding’ – dropping of feed
- Weight loss
- Altered manure consistency
- Swellings to the jaw or face
- Nasal discharge if the sinuses are involved
- Behavioural changes when ridden
- Mouth odour
Common dental diseases include
- Hooks and points resulting from normal growth
- Fractured teeth
- Retained ‘caps’ (deciduous teeth)
- Gingivitis and periodontitis
- Distema (gaps between teeth)
- Tooth root abscessation
- Abnormal tooth surfaces (malocclusion)
Mostly, dental disease can be diagnosed through a dental examination. This may require a sedation to allow evaluation of all teeth. Your vet may place a gag in your horse’s mouth and use dental mirrors, picks and other instruments to explore the mouth.
Most horses require regular dental examinations to detect early disesae, prior to them showing signs or losing weight. Some horses, particularly the very young and old, require more frequent examinations. Horses that have abnormal teeth may also require more frequent treatment.
Most horses allow examination and minor treatment while standing restrained in a crush or stocks. some horses may require sedation, particularly if they have tooth pain or are not used to the procedure.
Tooth root abcesses can lead to infection within the sinuses where the tooth roots lie. This usually requires removal of the affected tooth and possible sinus surgery, drainage and flushing.
Always ensure your horse is examined by a suitably qualified equine dental practitioner. Remeber that sedating a horse is best performed under veterinary supervision and acts that draw blood are acts of veterinary surgery that must be performed by a veterinarian.
Over-floating of a horse’s cheek teeth can be more detrimental than not floating the teeth. If the teeth have too smooth a surface the horse cannot effectively chew, leading to rapid weight loss that may take years to recover.
Horses having dental procedures should be adequately vaccinated against tetanus and Hendra
Ageing horses by their teeth is only accurate until about 5 years of age.
High sugar feeds cause dental disease in horses as well as people!