Sunday, March 14, 2010

Open Wide and Say, "Ahhhhh" : A Guide To Equine Dental Health Care

By: Darlene M. Cox

The one aspect of horse health care that is most widely overlooked by horsemen is dental health care. Some horse owners may have owned horses for many years and never once thought about having their horses' teeth examined. If you wait until there are obvious signs that a dental problem may exist, your horse has already had to endure a long period of pain. However, regular dental care (twice yearly) and examinations will prevent painful dental conditions and should be high on the list of what responsible horse owners provide our horses.
Dental examinations can be performed by veterinarians, equine dentists, or farriers who have also received training in equine dentistry. While costs for such dental services may vary between regions or occupations, the cost should be somewhere between $30 - $80.
When examining your horse's mouth, the dental professional will look for tell-tale signs of dental problems such as:

  • Molars that may be cracked or have sharp or jagged edges that have rubbed/cut the cheek and tongue
  • Trapped pieces of grain (in the cracks) that could develop into an abscess
  • Wolf teeth that will interfere with the seating of the bit along the bars of the mouth
  • Deciduous (baby/milk) teeth that may not allow proper eruption of permanent teeth
  • Tooth misalignments that interfere with proper chewing or seating of the bit
  • Inflammation and periodontal disease of the gums

If a problem is determined to exist, the dental professional will "float" your horse's teeth, which means a speculum will be inserted into the mouth to hold it open and a rasp will be introduced to file down the jagged edge, smooth out a crack, or even up a misalignment. Not all dental professionals will use a speculum; however, it is best if they do because the horse's tongue can best be maneuvered away from the rasp.
Dental health care should begin at foal age and continue throughout the geriatric years. Following is a developmental guide of your horse's mouth and what a dental professional may encounter upon examination:
  • 0 - 2 Years
    Examinations of a foal's mouth will ensure that his teeth are erupting (coming in) properly. As the foal ages and progresses to his yearling and 2nd year, the equine professional will ensure that his 24 deciduous (baby or milk) teeth have properly come in and will remove his wolf teeth (pointy little teeth that come in just in front of the cheek teeth).
  • 2 - 3 Years
    Permanent teeth begin to come in at 2-3 years of age. This is also the time when the cheek teeth come in. The deciduous teeth will be shed as the permanent teeth erupt.
  • 4 - 5 Years
    By the age of 5 years, all permanent teeth should be in. Canine teeth will erupt in male horses between the ages of 4 - 5 years. The canine teeth may need to be trimmed to ensure that the bit will fit well and comfortably in your horse's mouth. The dental professional will check for impactions (teeth that do not erupt entirely) that may lead to abscesses.
  • 6 Years and Beyond
    Sharp/jagged edges or points begin to be an issue in horses that have reached their 6th year and up. Untreated teeth may lead to tooth decay, inflammatory gum disease, and early permanent tooth loss.

Implementing a twice-annual dental care plan into your regimen of equine health care for your horse will allow him to have a lifetime of no serious dental abnormalities or problems. It is just one additional small way that we can provide the best care for our beloved horses.

Happy trails!

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