A brief overview of equine dentistry
The most common dental problems in domestic horses are caused by the specific anatomy and physiology of the horse’s jaws and teeth, designed for an animal that is naturally spending most of its lifetime grazing. With a little bit of knowledge, a lot of these problems can be avoided in event horses.
How to detect possible dental problems in a horse
- Riding problems – often the first signs of a dental problem are seen during normal handling and training. Unwillingness when being tacked up, getting ahead or behind the bit, leaning against the bit often only to one side which is then considered to be the sore side, poor suppleness and bending ability, head tilting and even headshaking are signs to get the horse’s mouth checked.
- Changes in food uptake and eating behaviour – a careful observation of a horse’s normal eating behaviour allows the prompt detection of possible dental problems. Slow and poor eating and chewing, abnormal and awkward mandibular movement, dropping food, increased salivation, ‘hay roll’ formation and food particles in the faeces may occur as signs of dental trouble.
- General condition – in some cases, symptoms cannot be detected at an early stage; in these cases a horse is often presented with more severe conditions such as poor performance and poor general condition with poor coat and/or weight loss, recurrent and frequent impaction colic or choking as well as very smelly purulent nasal discharge, halitosis (foul breath) or facial swelling and/or bony bumps on the jaw.
How often horses’ teeth should be examined
- The first dental examination takes place as a foal after birth, then again as a weanling.
- A six-monthly check should be performed in horses aged between two and five as this is the time when the milk teeth are being replaced.
- A 12-monthly examination should take place in horses older than five years.
- Horses with known problems, e.g. missing teeth or maladjustment of the jaws, should undergo a six-monthly check.