Caring for your horse's mouth is a critical part of caring for their overall health and performance too. Here, the vets at our 3 Southern Wisconsin hospitals share some of the reasons why you should have your horse's teeth regularly examined and what kinds of health issues may affect your horse's mouth.
Your Horse's Teeth
Horses, like their humans, get two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The baby teeth, also called deciduous teeth, are temporary. These teeth begin to be replaced by adult teeth around age two. By age 5, most horses have their full set of permanent teeth.
A horse's teeth are continuously erupting throughout their life. They also chew their food differently than people, moving their jaws in a side-to-side figure 8 motion. These two factors contribute to sharp points developing in their teeth around the outside of their upper cheek and along the inside of their lower cheek. Over the course of a year, these points may become sharp enough to damage the soft tissues of your horse's mouth as they chew.
Horses can also have dental abnormalities or poor dental placement, shape or structure which may continue to become more severe if not addressed on a regular basis.
Dental Issues Seen in Horses
Dental issues are relatively common in our equine friends. Horses may experience a range of dental issues if their teeth are not properly maintained. Some examples include:
- Deciduous teeth that have not fallen out
- Sharp points form on cheek teeth, causing lacerations of cheeks and tongue
- Infected teeth and/or gums
- Discomfort caused by bit contact with the wolf teeth
- Abnormally long teeth
- Lost, broken, misaligned, or worn teeth
- Abnormal or uneven bite planes
- Periodontal (gum) disease
- Hooks forming on the upper and lower cheek teeth
Signs That Your Horse Is Experiencing Dental Issues
Horses experiencing dental issues may display one or more of the following symptoms:
- Loss of body condition
- Nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw, or mouth tissues
- Foul odor from mouth or nostrils, or traces of blood in the mouth
- Loss of feed from mouth while eating, difficulty with chewing, or excessive salivation
- Large or undigested feed particles in manure
- Poor performance, such as tugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, even bucking
- Head tilting or tossing, bit chewing, fighting the bit, or resisting bridling
You know your horse better than anyone, so if they start showing signs or behaviors that seem out of character, it's time to schedule a dental appointment with our experienced equine vet at .
Treating Dental Issues in Horses
Having your vet examine your horse's teeth annually is the best way to maintain the health of your horse's mouth. Your Southern Wisconsin equine vet may perform a procedure commonly known as 'floating.'
Floating is essentially the grinding down of the points or your horse's teeth.
Floating helps to remove the sharp points from the enamel of your horse's teeth, smoothing them out, correcting any malocclusions and helping to address other dental health issues. Floating is performed under sedation in order to limit the amount of anxiety and stress that is placed on your horse. This also allows your equine vet to achieve optimal results.
Age & Your Horses Teeth
Your horse's age will impact the level of dental care they may need. Once an overall examination has been completed, your vet will have a better understanding of your horse's needs. Some typical effects of age on the dental health of horses include:
- Foals should be examined shortly after birth and often during the first year to diagnose and correct congenital dental issues.
- Mature horses should get a thorough dental examination at least annually to maintain correct dental alignment and to diagnose dental problems.
- Horses going into training for the first time need a comprehensive dental check-up before training begins to prevent training problems related to sharp teeth.
- Horses aged 2 to 5 years may require more frequent dental exams because deciduous teeth are softer than permanent teeth and may develop sharp enamel points more quickly.
- Horses 17 years old or older are at increased risk for developing periodontal disease. This painful disease must be diagnosed early for successful treatment. Beyond the age of 20, the tooth surfaces may be worn excessively and/or unevenly, and dental alignment correction may be impossible.