As horse owners, we understand the importance of regular veterinary and farrier care, but we often neglect dental care unless there’s a problem. This attitude can be a serious mistake. Mouth problems can affect virtually everything, from overall health to performance.
Determining how often your horse needs to see an equine dental technician starts with his age. Foals should be examined soon after birth. Some problems, especially congenital ones, may be dealt with and noted. Otherwise, regular dental care usually begins as a late yearling with the removal of the wolf teeth and floating.
The International Association of Equine Dental Technicians recommends that until all permanent teeth have erupted your horse should have two visits per year. Once all the permanent teeth are in, at age five, the frequency depends on the horse. Usually, one visit per year is sufficient.
Your equine dentist should inspect the horse’s head, the position of the jaws, and the incisors. He should ask about any problems and/or oral habits your horse may have. If you aren’t asked, say so anyway. If your horse’s eating habits have changed, discuss this, too.
The dentist will float, or file, the horse’s teeth in order to maintain a proper dental surface for chewing. Without proper maintenance, sharp edges can be created on the teeth just by everyday eating. They can become bad enough to actually cut the cheeks and/or tongue.
In younger horses, in addition to floating, your equine dentist will check for retained caps, removing any he finds. A cap is a remnant of a deciduous, or baby, molar or incisor that was shed. Most dental caps fall out the same way a child’s baby teeth do. However, some caps have to be removed when they impede the eruption of the underlying permanent tooth. Symptoms of a retained cap include an enlarged bump found on the bottom jaw and/or the swelling of the maxillary sinus on the horse’s head. Inside the mouth, you may actually see the second, permanent tooth coming in next to the cap.
The presence of wolf teeth should also be addressed. Wolf teeth are normally removed because they can cause considerable bitting problems. Wolf teeth erupt between six months and three years of age. Or, they may never erupt. Wolf teeth are found on the upper jaw and are sometimes referred to as the first premolars. These teeth are the most difficult to remove as it is important to remove all of the accompanying root as well as the erupted crown. If your dentist is unable to remove the wolf teeth, he should recommend having your vet take them out.
There’s a lot going on in your horse’s mouth. Some of this activity occurs without us realizing it, but some changes, if left unchecked and unattended to, may cause considerable problems from health problems to bit problems to training problems. Having routine dental examinations by an equine dental technician or veterinarian will help alleviate problems before they occur.
Knowing your horse and his habits will help guide you in caring for his teeth, but know that you should also enlist the help of an equine dentist. Your dentist should work closely with you, and when necessary, your veterinarian to care for your horse’s oral health.