Common Dental Issues:
Sharp enamel points
Ulcerations on cheek due to sharp enamel points
Hook on 206 premolar
What Is So Important About Horse Teeth – Doc?
by Larry Kimberlin, D.V.M.
I get this question asked to me daily by horse owners. It usually occurs right after they have described some problem to me that they think is a behavior or gastrointestinal problem and I ask when they last had the teeth checked. I will admit that equine dentists think that all problems that horses have are related to their teeth, but most equine enthusiasts are unaware how important the role that the horse’s mouth and teeth play in their performance and wellness.
Equine dentistry is hot topic these days. This has come about because the veterinary community has realized in the past few years how important this area plays in the overall health of the animal. The area of dentistry has advanced by leaps and bounds due to better equipment, such as motorized power equipment, and the full mouth speculum. There are more young people becoming interested in going into the field and much more research is been done in this field. The American Veterinary Dental Academy now recognizes the importance of this field and has devoted a specific area of expertise as an equine track for the academy.
If you have never looked in your horses mouth – you should. There will be a whole new world open up to you. If you haven’t had a dentist look in your horses mouth – get he or she to show you around in there.
The equine has teeth that are very different from our teeth. They are termed hypsodont teeth - which means “ long crowned”. These teeth continually erupt throughout the life of the horse - as they are worn down from grinding forage. They do not actually grow. They eventually wear out or “expire”, but it seems they are growing as there is more tooth erupting into the mouth at about 3-6 mm per year. These teeth were designed for grazing. The wild horse will graze for about 16 hours per day. This type of feeding promotes even wear of teeth. Domestication of the horse makes it necessary to keep them in stalls and feed them processed grains and hay. These husbandry practices cause accelerated wear and pathology to the teeth. There are similar findings in colic-wild horses and pastured horses colic very infrequently when compared to stalled and grain fed working horses – is this stress, diet, dental? There is not a single answer to this problem – but a combination of things that contribute.
Horse teeth and human are made up of the same type of tissue –enamel , cementum, and dentin etc. But the actual arrangement of these tissues differ. The architecture and structure account for more wear in the horse. The teeth will often wear unevenly. The lower jaw (mandible) is about 30% narrower than the upper jaw (maxilla). Everyone has watched a horse chew its characteristic figure eight pattern. These features cause the teeth to wear at angles and develop sharp edges or “points” when the horse chews. These points can be razor sharp and cause lacerations and sores on the cheek and tongue. These points are removed when horses are “floated”.
There are many symptoms of dental disease in the horse – these can include:
Dropping of grain
Taking extended time to eat
Resisting the bit
Failure to take leads
Swelling in the jaws
Large stems in stools
The horse is a spectacular athlete. It moves a half ton of body weight at high speeds and can stop and turn on a dime. It accomplishes by using the head as a gyroscope. Ever wonder why so much attention is paid by trainers, and professional riders to where and how the head is carried ? When you ride a horse you steer it by the head - using a bit. If the horse has pain or uneven pressure in the mouth caused by unequilibrated bite or diseased teeth – it cannot function properly. Have you ever had a tooth ache? It is very hard to concentrate on anything else until it is resolved.
There are thousands of horses taken to auctions and slaughter plants each year because of dental problems that were thought to be behavior or other health problems.
Every horse needs dental care every year of its life to maintain balance and function. Depending on age, breed and use and individual anatomy this may only mean yearly routine floating or it could require twice yearly equilibration for some horses.
Symptoms of Dental Problems