1. Horses’ teeth are unique.
The main difference between a horse’s teeth, and dog or cat teeth, is that the horse’s teeth are not completely covered in enamel. What you see in your horse’s mouth is not meant to last their entire lifetime. Cats and dogs teeth are completely covered in hard enamel, which allows their teeth to withstand the forces necessary to chew their diet of mainly meat without wearing the tooth surface. A horse’s teeth are made up of vertical “columns” of three different materials, only one of which is enamel. The other two materials, dentin and cementum, are not as hard. These three columns are actually designed to allow the horse’s teeth to slowly wear away as they grind their coarse diet of hay and plants. As their teeth wear away new tooth crown will erupt into the mouth at a rate of around 3-4 mm per year. A horse’s permanent teeth are about four inches long!
2. WE are the reason our horses need dentistry!
Remember how we said that horses’ permanent teeth are about four inches long? Well, obviously you don’t see all of that when you look in their mouth – a lot of that length is hidden from view in the jaw and skull bones. Those four inches are enough tooth to last an average of 25 years under the “ideal circumstance.” And THIS is where we’ve messed up Mother Nature.
The ideal circumstance include exposure to a varied diet that includes grasses, wild grains, broad leaf plants, herbs, twigs, leaves and even bark. So, not our standard boarding stable diet of fortified grain and hay. Another key aspect is that a horse should have 24 hour exposure to this varied diet of forage, every day, for their entire life. That is the perfect situation to cause their teeth to wear away. Obviously, most of our horses are not in these situations and their teeth are not wearing down at the pace they should. As your horses teeth continue to erupt and wear down improperly, they can form sharp hooks which can be painful, especially when a bit is placed in his mouth. His teeth can also wear unevenly, causing his mouth to close improperly.
These issues, and more, can be solved by a proper dental program and what you hear referred too as a professional “floating” your horses teeth to recreate balance in their mouth.
3. Dentistry is not just for the old – your up-and-coming prospect requires dentistry too.
Between the ages of 2 to 3 1/3 years your horse undergoes a large turnover of teeth. Your up-and-coming performance prospect will gain around 24 permanent teeth in the span of just 1 ½ years! It is key to have your younger horses looked at because if certain baby teeth wait too long to fall out, it takes longer for the permanent ones to replace them, or if a baby tooth does not properly fall out, it may lead to an impacted permanent tooth. As teeth unevenly erupt in the mouth, or teeth become impacted, it can cause patterns of uneven chewing and significant pain. Younger horses baby teeth are also softer and uneven chewing can form razor-sharp edges quickly in their teeth. Dentistry can alleviate these issues and prep your younger horse’s mouth for adulthood.
Another reason young horses are often carted off to the dentist is for wolf teeth, the equine equivalent of a human’s wisdom tooth. Some horses will never have wolf teeth, while other’s will, they generally appear in front of the other cheek teeth, but horses can also have them on both their upper and lower jaw, which is less common. There can be a tooth on one side of the mouth or both, and the teeth can have single or multiple roots. Sometimes, like our pal wisdom teeth, wolf teeth will erupt in unusual locations or fail to completely erupt. Wolf teeth, when left in, often cause bitting issues as they sit further forward in the mouth and are covered with a sensitive layer of soft tissue. It is recommended that wolf teeth are removed when a horse in between 6 months and a year old. It is far easier to remove a wolf tooth when horses’ are younger because the newly erupted tooth hasn’t yet begun to fuse to the surrounding bone of the jaw.
4. Training issues can start in the mouth.
Is your horse tossing his head? Is he suddenly not allowing you to bridle him? Is he fighting with you more than normal? Is he reluctant to accept contact with the bit, or on the flip side, is he mouthing the bit excessively? Are you noting excessive salivation? Is he suddenly having a harder time working or moving in one direction? Are there other signs of discomfort in his day-to-day activities? Is he turning his head sideways when chewing? Is he dropping feed while eating? These are all common signs of a variety of dental problems that can be quickly and properly addressed by having your horse’s teeth examined. Serious signs of dental problems include significant pain in the head and jaw area, drastic weight loss, and colic.
5. Routine dental work can reduce vet bills and increase peace of mind.
A regular dental program should be included to your already routine list of vaccinations, deworming, feeding protocols and farrier appointments – it is truly just important. As discussed, young horses have a lot of change going on in their tender mouths! Due to this, they should be checked more regularly, every six months. Horses who have their adult teeth (5-20 years old) and have been in a regular dental maintenance program can generally be floated once a year. Our senior horses often require more care, and as they begin to lose their permanent teeth, it is best to have them seen more frequently to ensure they are able to comfortably consume the amount of forage they need. It is often recommended they be seen every 6 months. Of course, each horse is an individual and it is up to you and your professional to determine what the right plan of attack is. It is often recommended that performance horses be looked at every six months due to their year-round training schedules. Horses with dental issues should also be more regularly seen while some horses won’t require yearly maintenance.
Either way, to start your horse down the right path, a regular dental programme should be put in place to ensure your horse is as comfortable as possible, no matter the discipline. Just like in humans, ensuring regular check-ups often leads to better overall health and less emergency appointments. That sounds like a win-win to us when it comes to our horses!