Is Dental Care Really Necessary For Horses?
Article written by Lynne Petitti
Absolutely! I didn't know how much until I had the opportunity to watch and learn from dental technician, Darel Webb. I had always planned on trying to have the horses' dental work done each year, but I almost thought of it as a luxury (because of the funding). Boy was I wrong! It is an absolute necessity. Darel was an awesome teacher, allowing me to look and feel inside of the horses' mouths. I was amazed what I learned. Some of the horses had "hooks" which are really sharp points that need to be filed down or it will create lacerations on the cheeks and tongue. Some had "roller coaster" shaped wear, which means the horse cannot properly chew their food allowing them to get all of the nutrients. As a result, the horse may be a messy eater, dropping grain creating waste for the horse and your pocketbook. If left unattended, it is not uncommon for these horses to lose weight and as a result good body condition. The technique to correct these abnormalities is called "Floating", which levels all of the high/low and sharp points of the teeth so the horse can chew in a side to side motion of grinding. Additional symptoms of dental problems may be pieces of grain or hay visibly seen in the manure, head tilting, excessive chewing or fighting on the bit, and resisting the act of putting the bridle on the horse. A foul odor from the mouth or nostrils, nasal discharge or swelling of the face, jaw or mouth tissue should be checked by a trained dental technician. Finally, if a horse exhibits poor performance such as lugging on the bridle, failing to turn or stop, even bucking could be related to a dental problem. A few of the horses had "wolf teeth", which is a pointy little tooth that grows in the bit area of the mouth. These are kind of like human wisdom teeth. There can be up to four, but like humans not all horses may have any. Typically, evidence of wolf teeth will be present after the ages of five to six months old. Before a horse begins training under saddle and with a bit, they should definitely be checked for wolf teeth. You may think the horse is behaving badly, but it could actually be a reaction to pain in his/her mouth. It is possible to guesstimate the age of a horse based on the condition and shape of their teeth. A horse will lose its first baby tooth at the age of two and a half years old. Ultimately, horses shed 24 baby teeth and get all of their permanent teeth by the age of four and a half years old. As a general rule, an annual dental exam should be conducted until the age of 18 years old. At that age, teeth will begin to show more extensive wear and tear, and dental visits should increase to every six months.