The equine jaw is structurally predisposed to irregular wear which may interfere with training and/or cause a variety of medical problems. The object of routine dental management is to maintain normal dental occlusion (bite) and prevent performance related problems.
When eating, the horse grinds his lower cheek teeth against his upper cheek teeth, from side to side. Incomplete sideways movement results in sharp edges forming along the cheek surface (outside) of the upper teeth and tongue surface (inside) of the lower teeth. Such edges and hooks can cause ulcerations on the cheeks just from the action involved in chewing. The bit draws the cheek or tongue against the sharp edges of the first cheek teeth and can cause painful ulcers or lacerations. The consequences are, avoidance of the bit and/or discomfort when eating.
Before introducing the bit to any horse, it is essential that his teeth be in optimum condition. It is sometimes necessary to float or round tooth edges to prevent teeth from cutting the cheek when the bit increases the contact. It is not difficult to imagine how laceration of these tissues may cause tenderness in the mouth and develop into resentment of the bit.
Horses from 2 – 4 years of age, horses in training and senior horses should have bi-annual dental examinations with floating if necessary. Annual examinations and floating should be done in all other horses. Regular dental procedures will prevent many horses from becoming “bit shy”. Poor dental management can result in “hard keeper” and a horse that is more susceptible to colic.
Foals: Recognition of congenital abnormalities such as “parrot mouth” or “sow mouth” begin at an early age. Both conditions are thought to be inherited and are considered an unsoundness. Depending on the degree of contact between the front teeth, surgical treatment can be performed in cases of “parrot mouth” provided the foal is under six months of age. Surprisingly, sharp edges can occur with the baby teeth at this early age and floating may be required.
Yearlings and Two Year Olds: Wolf teeth should be extracted before any training with the bit is started. These are small teeth with short roots sitting against the front of the upper cheek teeth. They serve no functions (similar to our wisdom teeth) other than to cause irritation when the bit sits against them. If the wolf teeth are displaced or delayed in eruption, interference with the bit may also occur.
Three Year Olds: Deciduous (baby) teeth can be so firmly lodged that the underlying permanent teeth become impacted. Food lodges in between causing discomfort and infection. This occurs more often with deciduous cheek teeth commonly referred to as “caps”. It is not uncommon to have to reexamine a 3 year old’s mouth repetitively in order to remove 2-3 sets of caps as they become ready since they may shed a total of eight to twelve caps and four to six incisors (front teeth).
Four Year Olds: If not shed late in their 3 year old year, the caps from the third set of cheek teeth become ready for extraction. Impacted teeth may become infected. The infection may extend into the jaw or sinuses. As in three year olds, removal of caps and floating (removal of sharp edges) is performed in this age group.
Five Years and Older: Dentistry in this age group includes removal of hooks present on the first and last cheek teeth, floating of sharp edges and “rounding” of the first cheek teeth in performance horses to provide comfortable “bitting”. This “performance floating” prevents ulcers or cuts from developing by ensuring a smooth contact between the cheeks or tongue against the first cheek teeth.
Mature horses: The abnormalities encountered in the aged horse include, uneven wear resulting in weave mouth and/or hooks on the first and last cheek teeth, gingivitis, abscesses and loss of teeth. All these conditions can seriously affect the way horses chew and digest food. Weight loss or colic may result if left untended.
Dentistry for the adult horse should be performed on an annual basis and should include biannual oral exams and a thorough power float yearly.
At our clinic we perform both power float and hand float to enable the best care for you and your horse. We also have the ability to remove teeth via standing surgery or general anaesthesia. We aim to maintain your horse in ideal condition either for performance or simple routine general care.