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Horse Teeth and Equine Dental Care

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The health of your horse’s teeth can affect the overall health of your horse. Horse teeth keep growing throughout the lifetime. They will wear down with eating. Most horses develop uneven teeth with sharp edges and hooks. If not properly taken care of, these sharp edges can eventually cause problems like sores on the cheeks and tongues. Pain or infections due to bad teeth can interfere with eating or taking on the bit. You may notice a bad odor coming from your horse’s mouth. Your horse may lose weight for unexplained reasons. With your annual wellness exam get a dental check to identify any potential problems.

Tooth Chart

Since horses, like humans, have two set of teeth, it may be a good idea to start young horses on a regular dental exam schedule. Foals have “deciduous” (temporary) teeth, also known as milk teeth, which will be replaced by permanent teeth later on. The milk teeth are smaller, smoother and whiter than permanent adult teeth. The adult teeth are stronger, quite larger and yellowish in color. Around six years old, a horse will have a full set permanent teeth.

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Healthy teeth make a healthy horse. Young horses as well as mature horses can end up with dental problems and diseases. If not properly taken care of and monitored, these issues may become extremely painful and can cause much discomfort.

Some of the most common Dental Problems in Horses include:

  • retained caps
  • long and sharp canine teeth
  • wolf teeth
  • lost or broken teeth
  • extra teeth
  • infected teeth
  • uneven bit plane
  • very long teeth
  • unusually worn teeth
  • hooks
  • infected gums

Baby teeth generally start getting replaced around age 2 1/2 and by age 6 most horses have 36-40 permanent teeth. Mares may not have canine teeth. Horses teeth come in up to 5 different shapes to serve different functions. Twelve Incisors at the front of the mouth are used for cutting and grazing. They are also used for defending themselves by biting down on predators or rivals. Behind the incisors is the interdental space where no teeth grow. This space is used to place the bit. Behind the empty space are the twelve premolars and twelve molars that are used to chew and grind up feed and forage. Stallions and Geldings, rarely Mares, can have up to 4 Canine Teeth. Occasionally male and female horses can have wolf teeth, which potentially interfere with bits.

The upper jaw on a horse is wider than the lower jaw. Sharp edges can form on the outer parts of the premolars and molars on the upper jaw and the inside of the lower back teeth. These uneven and sharp edges an cause a host of problems for your horse if not properly taken care of. For more detailed information on wear patterns of equine teeth you can read Understanding Your Horse’s Teeth by Manuel G. Himenes Jr., DVM and Basic Dental Care and How to Detect Trouble by Dr. Jenifer Nadeau.

Physical Signs of potential Teeth Problems

  • refuses to eat
  • swallows food without chewing (may cause chocking and/or colic)
  • packs food inside cheek (sometimes to eleviate discomfort from sharp edges)
  • grain or bigger forage parts in manure
  • ulcerations or lacerations on the inside of the cheeks
  • lacerations of the tongue
  • retained caps that did not shed
  • problems with bit because of wolf teeth
  • excessively worn teeth
  • broken teeth
  • dropps food out of his mouth when feeding
  • feed in the water bucket
  • holds head to one side when eating
  • moves his jaw irregular when eating
  • excessive drool and salvation
  • nasal and eye discharge
  • bad odor from the mouth
  • swollen face or jaw
  • bleeding from inside the mouth
  • weight loss

Behavioral Issues potentially related to Teeth Problems

  • refusing the bit
  • shaking of head when ridden
  • refusing to get on the bit when ridden
  • pulling to one side when ridden
  • increased unresponsiveness to bit while ridden
  • keeping head and nose up high while ridden
  • chewing or grinding on the bit
  • acting up when ridden or lunged

Note that horses may not always show physical or psychological signs with Dental Issues. It is important to include a dental check with your yearly wellness checkup to catch problems and correct them and maintain good oral health of your horse. A healthy horse is a happy horse!

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