The Importance of Equine Dentistry
By Robert Brissenden BSc EDS, Equine Dental Technician
For any horse owner the overall health and well being of their animal is of the utmost importance and to be able to understand when and why things such as dentistry are needed is also vitally important.
Horses have hypsodont (continually erupting) teeth which have evolved over the years to allow horses to graze naturally for long periods of time each day. They grind their forage, using huge pressures created by the strength of their jaws. However, due to domestication and changes in diet, all horses’ teeth now need regular maintenance to help keep them balanced and comfortable
The way in which a horse masticates (chews) is a circular motion in which the mandible (lower jaw) moves below the maxilla (upper jaw). Due to the process and action of the lateral excursion in a horse’s mastication there is never a quite a full excursion (even wear) on the outside edge of the upper teeth (buccal edge) and the inside edge of the lower teeth (lingual edge), which can lead to the horse developing sharp buccal and lingual edges along the upper and lower arcades. If these sharp edges are left untreated, they can cause soft tissue damage in the horse’s cheeks and on their tongue, causing discomfort and possible loss of condition and ridden performance.
Other common problems include:
- Hooks or ramps caused from misalignment
- Excessive transverse ridges (ETR)
- Uneven/ incorrect incisor angle
- Hyper eruption opposing missing teeth
- Peripheral and infundibulum carries
- Diastemas and periodontal disease
- Uneven table angles / uneven wear
- Retained caps (baby teeth)
- Wolf tooth discomfort
- Calculus build up
Signs that your horse may be uncomfortable in the mouth, due to any of the above, include quidding of food, head shaking, discomfort when bitted, extreme salivation, loss of condition, discharge from the nasal passage or a foul smell from the mouth and behavioural problems when ridden.
The above are all regularly seen on a daily basis by equine dentists and treatment of each may range from basic refloats and rebalance work, to more advanced cases where it is necessary to work alongside veterinary professionals to achieve the best results for the horse.
It is important to keep your horse comfortable and balanced within their mouth to help ensure that they are getting the most from their diet, which benefits you by reducing feed cost, as well as enabling you to “get the most from them” when they are in work. By keeping your horse’s mouth balanced you will enable them to make the most of their lateral excursion and anterior posterior movement within the jaw, as sympathetic dental work will free up the movement in the mandible and will help your horse to be more relaxed. If your horse is locking up through their mandible, they will find it increasingly difficult to maintain an outline for any period of time due to the pressures of the jaw which will stop them from working freely.
It is important that you keep your horse up to date with regular dental treatments, your EDT (Equine Dental Technician) or Vet will be able to advise you on how regularly your horse needs to be seen, as every horse is different in terms of their pathology. Age may also have a bearing on how often they need seeing and it is always good practice to ensure they are seen at least once a year unless you are advised otherwise.