CHEW ON THIS
Youngsters, oldsters and every year in-between, your horses need their teeth evaluated yearly. We know that most people don’t love going to the dentist but we do it because not attending to dental care is worse and more expensive in the long run. It’s the same for your horses, so we like to add a little encouragement during November and December, our official “Do Your Dentals” months. (See coupon below)
Let’s look at the dentistry needs of young horses. Their first dental exam should happen during their new baby wellness exam with a visual and digital inspection of the mouth, palate and tongue for any abnormalities. During the first couple weeks of life 16 baby teeth will push through the gums…. Yikes! After that, we can evaluate tooth alignment and early occlusion patterns. Do the incisors and molars match up, or is there an overbite or underbite that might interfere with normal growth of the whole mouth? Within 9 months or so the foal has all 24 baby teeth in place and they are working on wolf teeth and their first permanent molars. By 12 to 18 months of age all of the baby teeth are in wear enough to cause sharp edges or “points” that can cause painful ulcers and lacerations. Now (12 to 18 months of age) is the time for a comprehensive dental exam if you aren’t already having regular check ups. Besides the obvious problems of malfunction while eating, dental discomfort can affect young horses enough to cause significant training issues that might be difficult to sort out if left unattended.
There’s a lot going on in growing and maturing a “full mouth”. In the 2 to 3.5 year old horse those 24 baby teeth are being replaced with permanent teeth and jaws are adjusting to size. When sets of permanent teeth (uppers & opposing lowers of the incisors, premolars and molars) do not move into place synchronously it can cause uneven chewing surfaces that may contribute to mal-alignment problems. Caps, the residual bits of baby tooth pushed up and out by permanent molars as they erupt, can be sharp and dig into the tongue, cheek and gums. Adjusting to a bit is challenge enough for young horses learning to work with humans, inadvertently inflicting pain from sharp tooth edges is no way to start their training experience. With that in mind, it’s especially important to evaluate youngsters mouths as they learn to wear a bit and bridle. It’s also a good time to remove wolf teeth and modify canines if necessary. (Note, even a bit-less bridle will put pressure around the mouth and jaw potentially causing pain if sharp points are present.)
By 4.5 to 5 years, your horse should be shedding the last of their baby teeth (if they’ve read the growth and development manual that is). A good dental exam will determine if any baby teeth have been abnormally retained or if sharp points have developed on new permanent teeth just coming into wear. By age 6 most horses will have a full mouth with all permanent teeth in position. Horses that have had regular dental care as they’ve grown up and those that have no significant malocclusions or disease will generally only need evaluation (and minor adjustments as needed) on a yearly basis to maintain a healthy mouth.
In older horses, over the age of 16 or so, dental management may require a bit more work due to the nature of horse teeth. Unlike dogs, cats & humans, horses have hypsodont teeth. A little like an iceberg, there is 4 inches or so of tooth buried below the gum line. Suited to an abrasive diet, they slowly wear away over the years. This type of tooth erupts and is worn down at a rate of 3 to 4 mm per year depending on environmental circumstances (amount of grazing & coarseness of feed types). Obviously, feeds and feeding of the modern equine are quite different from the horses who roamed the range. This change has had considerable impact on the health and longevity of the horse and their teeth. It is a big reason why modern equine dentistry has evolved to become a mainstay of good health care for the horse. As your old horse’s teeth grind away, gum disease can become more of a problem along with fractured and loose teeth. Just like humans, dental disease can contribute to other illnesses besides weight loss and poor performance. A horse that can’t chew well does not digest it’s food well, which is not good for the horse or for your pocketbook. A horse that has had good dental care throughout its life is much less likely to develop significant problems as it approaches old age.
Prepare your horses now for success in the long run by scheduling an appointment for their annual dental evaluation. We’d really like to have a peek into their mouth to make sure there’s no waves, points, fractures or gum disease. We promise to only recommend floating or treatment if needed and we're extending our dental deal savings to the end of the year.