Recent research into equine dentistry has shown that as
long as horses live on rough grass, hay and water only,
tooth abnormalities are uncommon, and if corrected in time,
tooth disease might never occur.
Modern demands have created industrially produced feeds
that are quick and easy to administer, well balanced and
highly digestive. With horses' teeth being designed to grind
down hard, dry fibrous feed over long periods of time, pelletted,
chopped or silaged feeds, due to their softer structure
can lead to tooth abnormalities. The most common tooth disease
in the horse's mouth is caused by overgrowth of the cheek
teeth, resulting in sores of various degrees on mucous membranes
adjacent to the abnormal tooth. Subsequently animals are
often unable to clear their mouth when feeding, "quidding"
and cheek swelling may occur in badly affected horses. These
horses might use just one side of their mouths for chewing,
hold their heads in a tilted position when they are fed
and gradually lose weight due to pain in the mouth.
Weight loss can have other causes, but if dental disease
is involved then tooth infection or decay can be present,
smelly breath is a clear sign of dental disorder and the
cause of it needs careful investigation.
Tooth lesions are very painful and will cause bitting problems
which can lead to abnormal head carriage or head shaking.
Swellings on the horses head, nasal discharge from one nostril
only or fistulating wounds in the area of a particular cheek
tooth need immediate veterinary investigation.
Looking into the horse's mouth from front we see the incisor
teeth, six in each row. Disorders of these teeth are rare,
fractures or malocclusion due to some degree of "overbite"
are the most common problem. Overgrowth as a result of uneven
wear should be rasped level at least on an annual basis.
Incisor abnormalities can prevent normal mouth closure which
can lead to difficulty chewing feed or taking up the bit.
In the gap between the front teeth and the cheek teeth are
the canines, if displaced or grossly enlarged they will
interfere with the bit and can be safely rasped down to
the gum line if necessary.
Tartar can often accumulate on the canine teeth and should
be removed regularly as it can cause soreness and pain to
the mucous membrane of the gum.
Wolf teeth do occur in 70% of horses, they are the first
"baby" cheek teeth and most horses lose them between
2 and 5 years of age. If displaced, unerupted, pointed,
undersized or fractured they can interfere with the bit,
causing discomfort or pain so are best removed. On welfare
grounds we consider it essential to sedate the horse and
administer a pain killer before extraction of the wolf teeth.
Pliers and screwdrivers are not suitable instruments, and
attempted extraction without sedation/painkillers often
results in fractured wolf teeth making matters worse. Wolf
tooth extraction performed by an incompetent person can
lead to the horse becoming head shy and I would not be surprised
if the poor horse from that traumatic moment onwards "does
not like men", as most equine dentists are of the male
gender. I am sure that none of us would like to have a tooth
removed from our mouths by a dentist who used "DIY"
tools and no painkillers!
Retained "baby cheek teeth" in horses between
2 and 5 years old can cause irritation and horses then start
quidding, are uncomfortable with the bit and go off their
food. These so called "caps" will have to be removed
as retention can cause development of "eruption cysts"
under the permanent cheek teeth. X-rays are often helpful
in the presence of retained baby teeth as premature removal
can cause problems of a different kind.
A forward positioning of the upper cheek teeth in relation
to its lower opponents is quite common and the result is
a hook of considerable size on the first upper cheek tooth,
unfortunately a similar over growth on the last lower cheek
tooth is often undetected and can cause serious damage to
the mucous membrane. Levelling this tooth is a rather involved
procedure due to restricted space, especially in smaller
breeds. Over growth of cheek teeth are commonly seen on
horses on high concentrate diets that contain less abrasive
components than complete grass or hay.
Food stuck between the teeth followed by an infection can
retard tooth growth which will contribute to the formation
of what is called a "wave mouth". Once a bad tooth
is removed, a "step mouth" will form, with the
opposing tooth growing into the gap left by it's former
opponent. This tooth might need levelling every 6 months
and food stuck in this gap can add to gum disease.
Summing up, we can say that every horse that is fed on
a diet other than grass/hay alone will show some degree
of dental abnormality often of little clinical significance
and if corrected in time, tooth disease might never occur.
A proper dental examination by a qualified person who has
an interest in horse dentistry will reveal the true extent
of abnormalities, it might take longer and cost slightly
more than a quick "toothrub" but only a healthy
mouth will allow your horse to feel at it's best and perform
to its full potential. It is of vital importance that a
horses teeth are checked at least on a yearly basis with
particular attention paid to young horses before they are
introduced to a bit and to older horses who eat slowly or
are losing weight. Our surgery now offers a free of charge
dental health check with every vaccination to help detect
tooth abnormalities before they can develop into disease.
To contact Hannes directly,
or telephone 01637 860267.