The Importance of Horse Dentistry for Overall Health

Horse dentistry is an essential aspect of equine health that can be overlooked. Horses’ teeth are unique and require specific care to ensure their overall health and well-being. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of horse dentistry and the importance of proper education and certification.

Anatomy of a Horse's Mouth

Horses’ teeth are unique and require specific care to ensure their overall health and well-being. Horses have 36-44 teeth, depending on their age, sex, and breed — males typically have more. Unlike humans, horses’ teeth continue to erupt throughout their lives, requiring regular maintenance to prevent dental issues. Eruption means that the teeth are already there. They continue to come through the gum line, so the teeth must be filed down regularly through chewing and dentistry.

A horse’s mouth is also unique in that its teeth are designed for grinding and chewing tough plant materials. Horses have a combination of incisors, canines, premolars, and molars that work together to break down food.

Close up of horse teeth

Benefits of Horse Dentistry

One of the most significant benefits of horse dentistry is the improvement in a horse’s ability to eat and digest food. Dental issues can cause horses to experience discomfort while eating, leading to malnutrition (they can’t absorb nutrients properly) and other health problems.

Another benefit of proper dental care is improved behavior and performance. When horses experience discomfort or pain while eating, they may become irritable or difficult to handle. Dental issues can also cause problems with bitting, lead changes, and collecting. By addressing these issues, horses can perform better and be more comfortable while working.

Common Dental Issues in Horses

Dental issues can cause a variety of problems for horses, including difficulty eating, weight loss, colic, and behavioral issues. Addressing these issues as soon as possible is essential to prevent further damage to your horse’s health.

Some common dental issues in horses include:

Sharp Edges

Sharp edges on a horse’s teeth can cause discomfort while eating or when the bit is placed in the mouth. The sharp edges can cause ulcers and sores on the cheek and tongue. Also, the sharp edges can cause the horse’s jaw not to move side to side, allowing them to grind their food properly. 

Hooks and Ramps

Hooks and ramps are areas where the teeth have grown unevenly, causing discomfort while eating or when the bit is placed in the mouth. They also cannot grind properly to break down their food. 

A hook is a sharp point that forms at the rear tooth of the bottom molars or the first molar on the upper molars. This can prevent the horse’s jaw from moving back and forth and make collecting and picking up leads or even stopping difficult for your horse. 

A ramp is an excessive height to the last molar or first molar on the lower molars. This can cause difficulty eating, collection, lead changes, and stopping. 

Wave Mouth

Wave mouth is a condition where the teeth have grown unevenly, causing a wave-like appearance when viewed from the side. This condition can cause difficulty eating, improper grinding motion, and lead to nutrients not being absorbed efficiently.

Loose or Broken Teeth

Loose or broken teeth can cause severe pain, which may appear as poor behaviour. These issues can also lead to infections or abscesses.

Choke

In horses, if their teeth are unable to grind down food, it can result in inadequate breakdown of food, which can potentially lead to choke. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain proper dental care for horses to ensure effective chewing and digestion of food. Regular dental check-ups and appropriate dental treatments can help prevent dental issues that may hinder a horse’s ability to eat and swallow food.

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Finding the Right Dentist

It’s crucial to choose someone open to learning and working with other professionals. Additionally, scheduling regular maintenance is vital to prevent issues from arising. Dentists recommend scheduling dental work every six months for young horses and horses in training and yearly for older horses.

When choosing a dentist for your horse, it’s important to consider their qualifications and experience.

Education and Certification

In BC, dental procedures are done by veterinarians. Certification programs like the one in Alberta are essential for ensuring that dentists are qualified to work on horses. It’s also important for dentists to continue their education and stay up-to-date on the latest techniques and tools.

Tools and Techniques

Dentists use a speculum to hold a horse’s mouth open during dental work, allowing them to see all teeth. They also use tools such as rasps and floats to smooth out sharp edges and remove any hooks or ramps that may be causing issues.

In most cases, sedation may be necessary to keep your horse calm and relaxed during dental work. Dentists in approved areas will work with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your horse.

Horse teeth
The Integration of Bodywork

In addition to dental care, I believe scheduling regular bodywork for your horse is essential. Bodywork includes massage, chiropractic, and other therapies that help keep your horse’s body in good condition. I recommend scheduling bodywork after dental work because it can help improve the effectiveness of the dental work. It is a long time to have your horse’s mouth open, so releasing any tension in the jaw muscles as well as the TMJ is beneficial for the mandible to regain its side-to-side movement when eating.

Other Considerations

In addition to dental care, providing your horse with a healthy diet and environment is essential. Horses need access to fresh water, high-quality hay or pasture, and proper nutrition. They also need regular exercise and socialization with other horses.

Horses in paddocks or smaller acres may not have access to natural grazing or other activities that help keep their teeth healthy. This means they may require more frequent dental work than horses in more natural environments

Conclusion

Horse dentistry is a crucial aspect of equine health that should not be overlooked. Proper dental care has numerous benefits, including improved eating habits, behavior, and performance. It’s essential to find a qualified dentist and schedule regular maintenance. After all, horses are worth the world to their owners, and their care should always be a top priority.